The Art World Is Obsessed With Cats

Cats have already taken over the Internet, and now they're headed for the art world. A new exhibit at The Met will heavily feature our feline friends—and it's not alone.

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Cats have already taken over the Internet, and now they're headed for the art world. But this isn't some online meme, like the tumblr that puts cats into old famous paintings. No, a new exhibit at The Metropolitan Museum of Art will heavily feature our feline friends as cultural pieces of art—and it's not alone.

The Met's exhibit, titled "Balthus: Cats and Girls—Paintings and Provocations," features the paintings of Balthus, the French modern artist and self-titled "Thirteenth King of Cats." Balthus basically painted in the 20th century what is now the entire purpose and content of the internet: cats and girls. These cats may be cute, but their primary function in his works was as a voyeur, peeking under suggestively-positioned girls' skirts to see their, well, cats, to put it nicely.

(Balthus, Thérèse Dreaming, 1938, oil on canvas. Courtesy the artist and Metropolitan Museum of Art, Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection 1998.)

Hence the "Provocations" part of the exhibit's title. So it's no surprise that his art is making a comeback, the first U.S. exhibition of his works in 30 years. The Met's exhibit also coincides with the release of the book Balthus and Cats, written by a friend of the now-deceased Balthus.

The presence of cats in art isn't new, but it is newly relevant. Art News has published an extensive piece on the growing cat-art craze, and it's really getting out of control: the Brooklyn Museum will present "Divine Felines: Cats in Ancient Egypt" and its cat goddesses galore; The Internet Cat Video Fest—yeah, that's a thing—drew 10,000 fans in Minneapolis last year and is on a world tour, currently in Jerusalem; and finally, the West Village's White Columns hosts "The Cat Show," in which adoptable cats lounge among cat-themed works by Andy Warhol, among others. And why shouldn't these exhibits be popular—look how cute this little guy is!

Jonathan Grassi/White Columns

Our furry pets can make for great subjects in art, such as C.M. Coolidge's famous paintings of dogs playing poker. But those works are mostly famous for, in the words of poker player/art critic Jim McManus, "how funny it is. ... And contemporary artists love its kitsch, which has a lot to do with the fact that it’s so God damn bad as a painting.”

No, the newfound love for cat art is not due to that mock art appeal, and Art News declares we should be "Taking cat art seriously." Cat skeptics, it looks like it's time to give up and accept it—it's a cat-lover's world out there, and you're just living in it.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.