Cutting-Edge Cats

By Peers, Alexandra | Newsweek, September 3, 2012 | Go to article overview

Cutting-Edge Cats


Peers, Alexandra, Newsweek


Byline: Alexandra Peers

Amateur kitten videos are pouncing on the art world.

On Aug. 30, the well-respected Minneapolis institution the Walker Art Center will hold the first-ever film festival of Internet cat videos. The screenings, to be held on the giant lawn across from the city's iconic Spoonbridge and Cherry sculpture by Claes Oldenburg, are part of the Walker's summer series. And, for such YouTube classics as the sweatshirt-wearing Keyboard Cat, it's anticipating a blockbuster turnout.

What? Kitten-in-a-basket movies? It's adorable--but is it art?

It's "more of a social experiment," says the organizer and a Walker programming director, Katie Hill. It was started to see whether the online cat community would even go outside, says Hill, who has two cats herself. But the undeniable success of the project--10,000 votes for favorites, a sponsorship by Animal Planet, which will broadcast the crowd favorite, even a plug from Fox News--may be a flag to other museums. The Walker's website had its highest traffic ever in the days following the announcement. Such traffic matters big to museums: in New York, the Museum of Modern Art is currently weighing a "MoMA insiders" website that would include additional content for a fee.

Why cats? There are plenty of YouTube videos out there of winsome dogs, giggling babies, even thoughtful chimps, but there's something about cats that translates into virality. Pop-culture theorists have thumb-sucked a variety of possible explanations: The juxtaposition of a noble, reserved animal with mundane tasks is inherently comical. Cats are good performers, they're relatively easy to film (Thomas Edison captured two upright cats boxing circa 1894), and they're ideally scaled for online close-ups. Or perhaps viewing their lumpy fuzziness just softens the experience of sitting at a computer all day. Whatever the case, "the Walker is on to something" when it targets "the ultra-devoted close-knit community of cat-video lovers," says veteran cat blogger Angie Bailey. …

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