Happy Lunar New Year, art lovers! According to Chinese astrology, as of February 16, we have entered into the cycle of the earth dog. Apart from being an incredibly wholesome and encouraging image, the year of the earth dog signifies loyalty, companionship, honesty, and a strong sense of morality. It could see all of us barking a bit louder about what we believe in, and creating stronger bonds with those we admire and respect. While it certainly feels as though we’ve been in the year of the dog since the election (fun fact: Trump’s sign is a fire dog! A terrifying image!), the function of the earth could create a much more grounded, slightly tempered approach to our dogged pursuits, whatever they may be.
For us here at Artspace, that pursuit is always art (though we highly doubt any temperance on that front). That being said, without further awoo!, let us introduce you to some of art’s greatest good boys, good girls, and top dogs to bring us all the luck and good fortune we can get in the new year.
A Friend In Need (1903). Image via Painting and Frame.
While most people refer this staple of American kitsch as Dogs Playing Poker, the title more accurately describes the entire series of Coolidge’s work devoted to wheeling-and-dealing anthropomorphized dogs. Created initially for cigar boxes, Coolidge began to work for the “remembrance advertising” company Brown & Bigelow who, in near Warholian fashion, reproduced his works as posters, prints, calendars, and any kind of promotional item they saw fit to print on.
Though the work failed to receive much critical acclaim as anything other than novelty, low-brow cultural ephemera, A Friend in Need has since become a pop-culture icon as the poster child of bad taste—a puppy precursor to the velvet Elvis. Indispensable as jokes are in any culture, Coolidge’s paintings are worth their weight in kitsch—in 2015, the first painting in the Dogs Playing Poker series sold for over $650,000 at Sotheby’s.
Picasso, Jacqueline Roque, and Lump, the Dachshund. Image via Work in Prowess.
Akin to so many of his love affairs, when Picasso first met the little dachshund named Lump, the infatuation was immediate. Originally belonging to American photographer David Douglas Duncan, Lump was brought to Picasso’s home in Cannes in 1957 where the two instantly fell in love. That day, Picasso painted a four legged homage to Lump on a dinner plate, and when the photographer and his dog were about to depart, Picasso allegedly told Duncan, “You will leave him, of course?”
And so Lump stayed for another six years, to be painted and adored by the artist who took the little dog just about everywhere, cradling him like a baby, and letting him eat off his plate. Indicative of the awe-inspired relationship the artist had with Lump, Picasso once described his canine companion as beyond definition: “Lump, he’s not a dog, he’s not a little man, he’s somebody else.” The two died within ten days of each other in 1973.
Andy Warhol with his dachshund, Archie. Image via Celebrity Dog Watcher.
Like Picasso, Warhol came upon the joy of dachshund life entirely by chance. Originally more on the cat side of the spectrum, Warhol and his mother Julia ended up owning over thirty felines, all of which were named Sam except for one named Hester. It wasn’t until 1973, when Warhol’s boyfriend Jed Johnson persuaded him to get a dog. They got a dachshund puppy who they named Archie and nothing was ever quite the same. Filmmaker Vincent Fremont recounts the dachshund obsessed Warhol, “Andy took Archie to his studio, to art openings, and Ballato’s Restaurant on Houston Street… Archie was always on Andy’s lap, eating bits of food that he was handed [and] was always carefully hidden under Andy’s napkin just case a restaurant health inspector would happen to come by.”
So devoted was Warhol to Archie that the artist stopped travelling to London, horrified by the thought of having to leave Archie alone. As a compromise, Warhol adopted a second weiner dog named Amos to keep Archie company on his long trips. The two kept Warhol company in his final years and were the source of inspiration for a 1976 exhibition of a series of dog and cat paintings and drawings.
David Hockney with Boodgie and Stanley, and a wall of dog paintings. Image via Dream Dogs Art.
We’re not sure what it is about dachshunds but for whatever reason, it seems that artists just can’t help themselves when they’re around these little wiener dogs. David Hockney is no exception, and not unlike the hot dogged artists before him, his obsession came from on high, through no predilection of his own. “My neighbor has got a little dachshund and I fell in love with it. He said, ‘You’re very good with dogs, why don’t you have one?’ But I used to travel so much. Then I thought, ‘I don’t really want to travel any more so if I get a dog it will stop me.’”
Both bought as puppies, Boodgie was so small at first that Hockney had to put a bell around him so he would know where he was. In 1993, Hockney exhibited over 45 paintings of Stanley and Boodgie near his home town of Bradford. Variably arranged swaths of warm brown fur, set upon stout pairs of legs, the paintings in this exhibition made up the largest Hockney show since his Los Angeles retrospective in 1988 at the time. A testament to the sacrosanctity of his love for his furry companions, none of the works for sale, as Hockney felt the works “too intimate, too personal.”
There isn’t much that compares to having to say goodbye to a four-legged friend, and it’s hard to know exactly what form one’s grief might take. For artist and musician Laurie Anderson, it came in the form of a feature length film titled Heart of a Dog and a concert made entirely for dog ears. Made in commemoration of the passing of her beloved rat terrier Lolabelle, and dedicated to her late husband Lou Reed, Heart of a Dog is a deeply personal, and deeply empathic meditation on life, death, and loss. The film weaves between Anderson’s own Super 8 footage, animation, and archival media to create an undulating, dream-like web of intimate memory and thought.
One of the most memorable scenes is one where Lolabelle, afflicted with blindness in her old age, is playing the piano: ” I didn’t want a piano-playing dog necessarily. I wanted to find a way to help her because when she went blind, she didn’t do well at all, she panicked. This trainer said: “I taught my dogs to play piano,” and I said: “Whoah—OK!” And she said: “I think it really helps Lolabelle.” So there were concerts every day, and she was playing this stuff, and it was really a situation where music saved her life. She basically recovered her social world through music.”
Best Buddies (1993). Available on Artspace for $5,000 or $440/mo.
Even if they don’t know him by name, anyone who grew up watching Sesame Street knows who William Wegman is (though it’s more probable they know him as “that guy who dresses up dogs,” rather than, “that Californian conceptual artist”). Most of Wegman’s work from the 1970s features one particularly deadpan, model-esque canine named Man Ray. Named after the Dada artist, Man Ray was brought into Wegman’s life while the artist was living in Long Beach in the early ‘70s. From their companionship grew one of the most fruitful and wonderful artistic collaborations ever known to man or mutt. Though Wegman received formal training as a painter, his work with Man Ray was limited to photography and video. Both mediums were imbued with a wry, yet whimsical sense of humor that would prove to be definitive of Wegman’s work with his dogs.
Passing away in 1982 of cancer, Man Ray was named “Man of the Year” in that year’s Village Voice. Since then, Wegman has continued to work with a new (and quite large) family of Weimaraners, including Fay Ray and her pups Battina, Crooky, and Chundo (and their pups, Chip, and Bobbin, and Bobbin’s pup, Penny) all with their own distinct personalities and on-camera antics. None of them however, truly could replace the indelible Man Ray: “Since his death in 1982, Ray's come back to me in dreams eight or nine times to save me from big problems. When I used to work on drawings and paintings, Ray would get jealous because he hated being ignored, and when I first started painting again in 1986 Ray came back to me in a dream. He was speaking to me in English and he said, 'Now wait a minute Bill, we don't have to do this. We can do some photographs right now. Or perhaps a video.'”
Balloon Dog (Orange) (2015). Porcelain, miniature reproduction available on Artspace for $9,000 or $792/mo.
Jeff Koons owes a lot to dogs, believe it or not. Were it not for a particular gigantic orange sculpture of a balloon dog, Koons would never have set the record for commanding the highest price for work by a living artist—Balloon Dog (Orange) sold for a whopping $58.4 million at Christie’s in 2013.
While the balloon dogs have etched Koons’s name deeper into art history, they are not the only pups in the pop artists oeuvre. His 1992 work, Puppy, a 40-foot-tall sculpture of a West Highland Terrier carpeted in plants and flowers, is a monument to the saccharine and sentimental. Created in the aftermath of Koons’s scandalizing "Made in Heaven" series, Puppy was Koons’s motion for redemption—"an image that communicated warmth and love to people."
The jury of the internet remains out on whether or not writer and artist Dave Eggers actually owns a dog or not. What we can say is that Eggers has a real and uncanny knack for being able to give some say to our surrounding fauna, as seen in his series of animal drawings. We will leave you with this excerpt from After I Was Thrown in the River and Before I Drowned, a short story told from the point of view of a dog:
“I love it I love it. I run to feel the cool air cool through my fur. I run to feel the cold water come from my eyes. I run to feel my jaw slacken and my tongue come loose and flap from the side of my mouth and I go and go and go my name is Steven. I can eat pizza. I can eat chicken. I can eat yogurt and rye bread with caraway seeds. It really doesn't matter. They say No, no, don't eat that stuff, you, that stuff isn't for you, it's for us, for people! And I eat it anyway, I eat it with gusto, I eat the food and I feel good and I live on and run and run and look at the people and hear their stupid conversations coming from their slits for mouths and terrible eyes. I see in the windows. I see what happens."
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