Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The KattenKabinet: Amsterdam’s One and Only Cat Museum

The KattenKabinet, Amsterdam’s illustrious cat museum, showcases a myriad of feline themed art pieces. Located in a historic canal house built in the 1600’s, Bob Meijer founded the museum in 1990 in honor of his pet cat, Tom Cat John Pierpont Morgan (called J.P. Morgan for short), who was the inspiration for a number of pieces that are on display in the museum. This ‘cat cabinet’ succeeds because it provides a large variety of artwork, all with a common cat theme.
The museum is targeted toward people with a passion for cats, and provides an assortment of different styles and mediums of the feline form to compare and appreciate. The Kattenkabinet is also effective due to the humor and irony woven into the layout, subject matter, and artwork itself. Apparent throughout the entire experience, the KattenKabinet playfully illuminates the humor inherent in an entire museum dedicated to cats. This comedic undertone supplements the experience of enjoying feline art, and creates an overall positive and enjoyable experience.
The entrance of the museum is quaint and soft-spoken, only boasting a modest, average door on the street paralleling the Herengracht canal near the outer rings of Amsterdam’s centrum. The unassuming entryway directly contradicts the elaborate, ornate, and facetious interior of the two-story museum. Decorated with antique chandeliers, mantelpieces and rugs, the décor of the KattenKabinet highlights the ironic nature of the museum. The layout mimics something similar to a miscellaneous, vintage antique store, in that the works are all framed in elaborate gold picture frames and enclosed in intricately detailed glass cases, but appear scattered throughout the room. However, this somewhat trite yet falsely opulent display contributes to the overall delightful experience by placing cats in a divine and sophisticated light.
The artwork on display contains an assortment of many types of styles of feline-inspired mediums, including sculptures, images, paintings, drawings, posters, and more. Though many of the works’ artists are anonymous or unlabeled, the KattenKabinet contains pieces attributed to Picasso, Rembrandt, and other world famous artists, as well as ancient Incan woven textiles dispersed intermittently throughout the exhibit. These pieces are not only visually interesting, but also valued because of their well known esteemed creators.
The variety of selections the KattenKabinet has to offer enables the viewer to carefully examine the artwork across different mediums, keeping them engaged and captivated. Picasso’s ink sketch, ‘Le Chat,’ occupies a prominent position in one of the exhibition rooms, but does not directly demand attention from viewers – it is interspersed regularly by unnamed or much simpler art pieces. The stark contrast between small kitten porcelain figurines and dark, heavy oil paintings of lounging felines illustrates the breadth of interpretations artists have undertaken when portraying the same subject matter.
Le Chat by Pablo Picasso
Unknown, suspended cat sculpture
While the museum’s intentions of creating an eccentric gallery ambiance are clear in the novelty of the museum’s format, the scattered nature makes it difficult to identify or follow the artwork. Many pieces are unlabeled, not offering any information on the work’s creator, origin or installation. The museum would benefit from consistency by inputting small label tags next to every piece, providing some relevant background. The organization in the museum also struggles, and the unexpectedly disseminated nature of the display becomes troubling at times. Many paintings were overlapped, partially hidden, and placed so high up on the walls that it is impossible to discern their exact form, let alone their background information. While this adds to the clustered and ‘antique shop feel’ of the museum, a slight improvement on the labeling, organization, and structure of the KattenKabinet would help create a smoother and more seamless experience for viewers.
Overall, the KattenKabinet is successful in its intentions as a specialty museum. It clearly advertises and appeals to viewers with a specific interest in cats, and delivers a spectacular array of material depicting felines of every shape and form. The €6,00 entrance cost is well worth the price to observe a historical and temporal art collection illustrating a diverse variety of cats.

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