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Feature Creatures: A review of ‘The Popular Pet Show’

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‘The Popular Pet Show’ at the National Portrait Gallery / Credit: Libby Kimber











The National Portrait Gallery in Canberra was recently home to The Popular Pet Show, an exhibition celebrating the relationships between humans and their pets.

Curated by Sarah EngledowThe Popular Pet Show showcased paintings, drawings and sculptures by 15 contemporary Australian artists, including Ken Done, Shen Jiawei and Nicholas Harding.

The exhibition, on show from 4th November 2016 to 13th March 2017, featured pets of all shapes and sizes, some owned by the artists and some owned by famous Australians.

The artworks ranged from highly realistic paintings, to more abstract and interpretative works, many of which were created specially for the exhibition.

Each piece was accompanied by a description of the work and a description of the featured pet, which brought a personal feel to the artwork.

A particular highlight of the exhibition was the pieces from Noel McKenna, who painted cartoon-like portraits of animals on ceramic tiles.

These images were whimsical and fun, and captured the curious and wonderful personalities that our pets embody.

Another stunning addition to the collection was an incredibly life-like portrait by Jiawei Shen, of his daughter and their golden retriever, Billy.

The intricate piece captures the close relationship between the family and their pet, showing Billy as a happy member of the family.

In the first exhibit of its kind at the Portrait Gallery, The Popular Pet Show aimed to entice visitors who didn’t usually go to galleries.

Sarah Engledow told the Sydney Morning Herald ,“[They] will come because they love animals and pets. This will help them engage with the artworks.”

This approach seemed to work, as the exhibition was filled with many people; young and old.

However, the exhibition seemed to be a hit with the younger crowd, even those who don’t regularly engage with the art scene.

Children who attended the exhibition were given a booklet with questions and activities, and they raced around eagerly to each new display.

Alex, a 22-year-old attendee, said that while he never goes to art galleries, he appreciated the exhibition, as it was something a bit different. “I liked the realistic paintings”, he said. “I felt like I could’ve done some of the abstract ones. I just don’t appreciate abstract art.”

Another attendee, Nat, a 21-year-old student, said that she liked the exhibit but only decided to attend because it was about pets. “It was heart-warming to see how an animal can have an effect on their owners, and the pieces of art showed the different characteristics of each pet”, she said. You could kind of tell what relationship each owner had with their pets.”

Moving through the exhibit, every attendee was smiling, pointing and laughing at the “cute” and “funny” portrayals of the animals.

In their attempt to entice new appreciators of modern art with the promise of pets, the National Portrait Gallery has certainly succeeded.

The exhibit beautifully showcased the relationships between humans and their furry friends, showing off these relationships in a quirky way for everyone – not just art lovers – to enjoy.

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