Wander into the main gallery at the Long Beach Museum of Art – without reading the exhibition introduction – and you might just think it’s some wacky contemporary art exhibit.
Truth be told, even after reading it, you might wonder if such an assemblage of miniature architecture is worthy of the installation. But if you know anything about dogs and just a little about architecture, it’s easy to appreciate the 13 creations that comprise “Architecture for Dogs.”
The beauty of these pieces, however, is not just that they’re for dogs. They were designed and executed for specific dogs and for their owners too. And for dog owners everywhere.
Yes, while professional architects are the artists behind this lovely, creative, modern architecture, you, too, can build any one of the useful and decorative pieces yourself. The blueprints are all online.
Fortunately, because I live in Long Beach, Calif., the only locale in the U.S. that the exhibit will visit before returning to Japan, I was able to see it up close and personal, just a couple of miles from my apartment.
I wish I hadn’t seen any of the pieces on the museum’s website or on the exhibition’s site before I saw them in person. I’d liked to have just walked in and seen the architecture cold, without any preview. As a dog lover and dog product watcher, I’m sure I would have gone, “Wow!”
At the entry to the main gallery sits a doghouse that would be perfectly typical, except for two things: the bottom isn’t flat and there’s a heavy rope coming out of one end. What on earth? “Beagle house,” designed by Elien Deceuninck and Mick van Gemert of architecture firm MVRDV in the Netherlands to look something like Snoopy’s home, is a “simple, strong, playful object” for the “firm and active Beagle,” according to the exhibition description. “Through this modest metamorphosis, the house has become a playful and elegant object, creating both a hideaway and an interactive toy.” When your dog enters or leaves, the house rocks gently. You – or your dog – can use the rope to drag the doghouse around your home, and its wedge-shaped roof makes it easy to carry too.
Just beyond “Beagle house” rests a big, white, fluffy ball that appears, at first glance, similar to a LoveSac or bean bag chair. As with everything else in the exhibit, it’s a whole lot more. Its shape is not variable, but set firmly from within by graduated rings that ultimately create the perfect resting spot for a Bichon Frisé, thus its title, “Architecture for the Bichon Frisé.” “Our goal was to create a shape that would be completed by the reclining Bichon Frisé,” explains its architect, Kazuyo Sejima, of Tokyo. Museum Executive Director Ron Nelson told me that Sejima attended the exhibit’s opening and was quite excited to do so. Despite having designed two museums, the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art in Kanazawa, Japan, in 2004 and the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York in 2007, it was her first time having a work exhibited in an art museum. To understand how a Bichon would complete the piece, you need to know that it’s covered in white, bulky yet soft, knitting. In addition to reclining, your dog – regardless of breed – can hide away via a hole at the back through which it can enter the tunnel of structure that creates the shape.
“D-Tunnel” was created by the exhibition curator, Kenya Hara, a Tokyo-based designer and professor at Musashino Art University who has curated numerous exhibitions that showcase design. Also a finely sanded wooden structure like “Beagle house,” “D-Tunnel” sends the dog up a short flight of stairs to a landing of sorts so that it can be at the same level as its humans. This would be wonderful to have at the end of your couch, so your dog could sit beside you when your furniture is full or even at your table when dining. Hara designed it for a Toy Poodle as a scale modifier. “The world is scaled to the human body, not to dogs,’” he writes in the description of the piece. “Dogs who spend their lives at the side of humans must accept human scale. As for these super-small dogs, who spend all their time looking up, definitely let them try it out!”
Try it out they may not, however, at least not at the Long Beach Museum of Art, though dogs that can be carried may enter the exhibit – a break from the venue’s regular policy.
One “sincere” architecture, meaning it is designed within the scope of the artist’s own convictions, isn’t static in your home or backyard. REISER+UMEMOTO’s “Chihuahua Cloud” is constructed of sheer and opaque tangerine-colored fabric, not one of your more traditional architectural materials. It’s “architecture that travels with the dog. The illusion of larger mass is befitting of the Chihuahua’s big personality,” reads the exhibit description. The piece looks like something you’d see on a doggie fashion runway, complete with a supported “veil” that makes even the dog’s head look bigger. Ruching, still in tangerine, covers the dog’s leash, concluding in a diaphanous glove. “As the mediating link between pet and owner, the leash is treated with the importance of a joint within the dog’s body.”
Industrial designer Konstantin Grcic of Munich, Germany, wanted to explore the fact that studies have shown that certain species can recognize their own image in a mirror, but not dogs. When you first see “Paramount,” constructed of a round mirror surrounded by “makeup” lights and fronted by a small Persian rug that flows down to the viewer, it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that it represents non-Poodle owners’ froufrou perception of the breed. Fanciers know, whether Standard, Miniature or Toy, the Poodle has much more to it than good looks. “Paramount” reflects “not only the Poodle’s beauty,” says Grcic, “but enthusiasts’ assertion that at least Poodles are self-aware enough to recognize themselves in a mirror.”
Each architecture rests on a simple dais made of plywood stained a dirt-brown color, evocative of the surface on which many of our canine companions spend much of their time – or would like to if they weren’t city dogs. A sensational addition to each display is a non-bound book of color photographs of each architecture, alone and with its dog, plus photos of the dogs in various poses and some with the creator, dog and art. Cleverly, two photographs are mounted back to back with a thin slice of Plexiglas between to give them a bit of heft, along with durability. Despite its premiere at Miami Art Basel in December 2012, the photos remain clean and undamaged.
Other pieces include “Pointed T,” a paper cone-shaped doghouse that hangs from the ceiling; “Papier Papillon,” made of plastic-wrap cardboard tubes that create a playful maze or secure hiding places for small dogs; “Wanmock,” which turns an old shirt into a doggie hammock; “No Dog, No Life,”an airy cubist structure; “Architecture for Long-Bodied-Short-Legged Dog,” a climber and recliner for dog and owner; “Mount Pug,” a dome made of hexagonal pieces of wood; “Mobile Home for Shiba,” which uses a graceful stroller design; and “Dog Cooler,” a “mat” of metal tubes and wooden pieces that you can arrange for your dog’s comfort, while stuffing a bag of ice in a tube or two to cool it off.
Despite having seen the pieces before I toured the exhibit, I nonetheless left the gallery thinking to myself, “Wow! That was cool.” You will too should you be so lucky as to visit “Architecture for Dogs” before it heads back across the Pacific Ocean.
Just outside the main gallery, several short videos feature someone actually constructing a “D-Tunnel,” then moving it into place in his home, along with information about the curator and a striking set of photographs of each artist – in black and white – juxtaposed with a color photograph of the dog that inspired his or her creation. Another video shows the blueprints of several of the architectures with animated illustrations of how they’re built.
To further encourage exhibit visitors to recreate an architecture for their own canines, outdoor versions of “D-Tunnel,” “Wanmock,” “Beagle house,” “Architecture for Long-Bodied-Short-Legged dog,” and “Mount Pug” can be touched, tried out and climbed on by real, live dogs. And, as would be expected in dog-friendly Long Beach, cleanup bags are provided free of charge. For blueprints, go to www.architecturefordogs.com, click on “Architect,” then slide down to the artist whose work you want to create.
Located at 2300 E. Ocean Blvd., the Long Beach Museum of Art is open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursdays and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday through Sunday. Admission is $7 for adults, $6 for students and seniors, and free for children under 12. Phone: 562-439-2119 Website: www.lbma.org