The Fussy Eye: Furry Ambassadors

Still playing at the Meridian, Werner Herzog's new 3-D documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams shows that man has been depicting beast since the early Stone Age. Painting animals is, in all likelihood, the dawn of art. Jump forward 30,000 years (give or take), and the group show Animalia finds 17 contemporary artists to be just as obsessed with our four-legged cousins. Maybe because so many of us have pets, there's always a live figure model in the house. The trick is to sketch them while they're snoozing in the sun, or to snap a quick photo. Even domesticated animals bear traces of their wild, prehistoric DNA. They signify how once, in the time of the cave painters at Lascaux and Chauvet, Homo sapiens was hardly assured of dominance. The giant wolves and saber- tooth cats might've won out. But, as in Xavier Viramontes' Socorro, modern house cats have consented to domestication. Yet they seem at ease on the altar. Before Christianity and since, animals have been associated with worship and the spirit world. Like tarot cards, idols, and cathedrals' stained-glass images, these felines suggest a forgotten threshold between our desanctified world and older, enduring animist traditions. (So, too, do the VHS boxes for Jurassic Park and The Lion King.) These cats are ambassadors from another realm, perhaps here to offer succor ("socorro" in Spanish), perhaps here to remind us of something ancient that can never be tamed. 

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