Animal behavior expert remarks on pet-inspired Blanton exhibition

Mary Huber

Amber Rowland, behavioral program manager for the Austin Animal Center, guided visitors Thursday through the art exhibition “In the Company of Cats and Dogs,” on display at the Blanton Museum of Art through September 21.

Many of the photos and paintings showed the harmonious relationship between humans and their pets, and Rowland said many studies prove that animals have calming effects on people. Some of the early works highlighted the utilitarian relationships, such as hunting dogs and cats who caught house mice. Cats are portrayed less often and more negatively than dogs are, Rowland said.

“The exhibition explores human relationships with cats and dogs through the lens of not only art history, but psychology, sociology, history and other disciplines to provide a rich experience for visitors,” Blanton Museum marketing manager Stacey Ingram Kaleh said.

The exhibition includes works by Pablo Picasso, Francisco Goya and Edward Hopper, among others. It was put together by Francesca Consagra, a senior curator at the Blanton, and spans ancient Egypt to the present day, exploring themes of religion, mythology, aggression and domesticity.

“Artists are superb observers of life, and they have been depicting our relationships with cats and dogs for millennia,” Consagra said in a Q&A for UT “Know.”

Rowland, who has 18 years of experience working with animals, said some of the issues displayed in the exhibition, including animal hoarding, aggression, euthanasia and breed restrictions, she sees at the shelter every day.

“[The shelter] is ground zero,” Rowland said before the gallery talk.

Rowland has worked with the Austin Animal Center since 1991 and said the center sees up to 20,000 animal intakes every year — sometimes more than 100 a day. About 90 percent of the animals at the center are made available for adoption. They encourage volunteers, accept donations and invite people to come walk a dog anytime.

“If you’re a student who can’t have a dog right now, come get your doggy fix or your kitty fix,” Rowland said.

Rowland said she hopes the exhibition will attract people to the center and get them talking and thinking about pets.

“We were delighted when the Blanton came to us to collaborate on this project,” Rowland said. “They did a great job at putting together a really thought-provoking exhibit.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a variety of programs and activities, including a “Pooch Parade” through the UT campus on July 19, followed by film screenings and August appearances by noted psychologist Hal Herzog and “Canine Soldiers” documentary filmmaker Nancy Schiesari.

Adam Bennett, manager of Public Programs at the Blanton, said experts and professionals lead “Perspectives” gallery talks at the museum on select Thursdays. They are free to students and open to the public.

Correction: This article incorrectly stated the "Perspectives" talks take place every Thursday. They in fact take place only on select Thursdays.