May – September 2003

Pet keeping, which can be traced back to ancient times, is nearly universal and overwhelmingly popular. There are innumerable theories that attempt to explain this practice but only recently has it emerged as a field of study. Scholars from many disciplines, including history, literature, medicine and theatre are exploring the complexities of the animal-human bond. This exhibition examines the wide range of interdependent relationships between people and pets in Western culture.

Although dogs are frequently referred to as man’s best friend, so too are cats, mice, horses, fish, rabbits, monkeys, chickens, snakes, pigs… Indeed, almost all animals have acted in that capacity. In addition to being companions, they may also be partners in work, sources of income, or providers of therapy.

Companion animals are a significant part of the social fabric. They frequently make headlines in the news and the ubiquitous “photo op” lends credence to the notion that politicians might be aware of the perceptual axiom that people pictured with pets are seen as friendlier than those without. Animals are often used to convey the image of wealth or sophistication. And, conversely, they may become status symbols when owned by the rich and famous. Unfortunately, despite or perhaps in some cases because of their popularity, great numbers of pets are abandoned or end up in animal shelters.

That pets have long been an integral part of our culture is reflected in our creative pursuits. They serve as both muses and subjects for writers, composers, painters, and artists working in film and other media. Capable of invoking strong emotions, the many portrayals of the bonds between humans and animals make us laugh, cry, sing, dance, reflect and wonder. It should come as no surprise: we are best of friends.

Prepared by Kathy Magarrell, Marguerite Perret, Rijn Templeton, Karen Zimmerman, and Kathy Wachel, with the assistance of Kristin Baum.