There are lessons to be learned at the Museum of the Dog about the symbolism of dogs in art history, the ways that artists humanize them, and their role as a worker and companion.
The two-story museum at the bottom of an office tower near Grand Central Terminal in New York, is where the American Kennel Club has moved its collection of dog art and artifacts from the museum’s prior home in St. Louis.
The Museum of the Dog opened last month during the Westminister Dog Show, and it will be a draw for dog lovers curious about the contents of a museum dedicated to man’s best friend.
Enter, and right away, you’ll stand before a large screen that invites you to find out what breed of dog you, a human, are – like a BuzzFeed quiz in real life. The screen will take your picture, analyze it and show you the dog you most resemble. A woman with long red curly hair was naturally deemed an Irish setter.
The Museum of the Dog is serious, and its initial exhibition of collection highlights is composed of dignified paintings of dignified dogs, whether they appear as companions for the wealthy, masters of the hunt, or in proud portraits of champions.
There are a few celebrity dogs, such as a portrait of Caesar, “King Edward’s Favorite Terrier,” and of Millie, President George H.W. Bush’s English springer spaniel, accompanied by a framed letter from first lady Barbara Bush.
It’s not all paintings; a few small cases also present historical dog-related artifacts. There’s an entire display devoted to memorabilia including medals and a tiny parachute for Smoky, a Yorkie that served in World War II.
What looks to be a wooden birdhouse is, upon closer inspection, an Edwardian-style doghouse for a very fancy, late 19th-century Chihuahua. There’s a fossil of a dog paw print, an ancient good boy from the second or third century A.D.
Sculpture is another highlight. A case of small ceramic dog sculptures spans both floors of the museum as you walk up the stairs. Some of them look like something you might find in your grandma’s retirement home, and that’s not a criticism. It’s a dog museum. It should be kitschy.
The end of the exhibition will deposit you in the museum’s library, which is usually a cue to head straight for the gift shop. But it turns out to be more of a social gathering space, with seating and dog pictures for children to color, though it was mostly adults using the colored pencils during my visit.
The library is a reference library for books on dog training and breeding, and the standards for every AKC breed, no matter how obscure. Few people seemed able to resist books about their preferred breed.
I saw a man sit down with four thick tomes about the English cocker spaniel. Another woman walked in with her black-and-white Papillon, pulled a papillon book off the shelf and sat down to read it with her dog in her lap. (Only service dogs are permitted in the museum.)
The Museum of the Dog plans to rotate its exhibitions.
IF YOU GO:
American Kennel Club Museum of the Dog
101 Park Ave.
Open Tuesday-Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets $15 for adults, $5 for children