|Should you go?
|Best thing I saw or learned
|There’s only one actual dog at the Museum of the Dog — or a former one, anyway. Belgrave Joe died in 1888, and is the prototype Fox Terrier. And the mascot of the AKC Library. He reminded me of the nameless canine taxidermied and memorialized at the Fire Museum.
A Museum That’s Gone to the Dogs
The American Kennel Club Museum of the Dog is one of the newest museums in New York City, having opened in an office building lobby space near Grand Central in May of 2019. The Museum’s prior incarnation was located in St. Louis, but its move back to the Big Apple represents a homecoming for an institution based here from its founding in 1982 until 1987.
The museum is split over two airy, brightly lit floors with large windows looking onto East 40th Street. The design cleverly maximizes the limited floorspace, with temporary walls for paintings standing at a diagonal to the floorplan, and a series of library-style archival storage racks upstairs that visitors can look through.
Ironically, dogs are not allowed.
The museum unsurprisingly collects caniniana (I just made that word up). What’s on display is mainly art — paintings and a multistory vitrine of small knicknacks and sculptures. It also includes a very few artifacts, like a charming carousel animal carved like a parakeet. Okay, carved like a dog.
If I had to characterize the paintings, I’d say they were mostly fairly mediocre, and in most other museums would be relegated to study collections or dusty back rooms (indeed, I speculate dusty back rooms of other museums may even be the source of some of the collection). But, hey, they’ve got a dog in them, so here they are stars of the show. One particular favorite of mine featured what I declare to be the world’s most windswept poodle, out on the moors somewhere.
Who’s a Good Museum? Who’s a Good Museum?
The Museum of the Dog, like the AKC, is devoted to dogs, and their raising, training and breeding. Actually, almost exclusively the latter. Rather than dogs as companions, or dogs as living creatures, much of what’s on display speaks to dogs as objects that humans have shaped and molded over generations to create an astonishing array of variously lovable, weird, practical, and unlikely breeds.
One interactive element consists of a tabletop screen that with little dogs walking along it. Drag one to a doghouse and the table gives you all sorts of facts and lore about the breed.
There’s other interactivity as well. A kiosk snaps a visitor’s selfie and then identifies a breed of dog they resemble. I got tagged as a German Pinscher, which I suppose I’ll take. At least I’m not a pug in its machine vision eyes. Though my ears are definitely not that pointy.
The museum also contains the AKC’s modest library, including everything from children’s literature to a book on the art of Beagling (I did not make that word up).
Speaking of beagling, I was grateful that in a rare moment of showing a dog as an exemplar of popular culture, rather than an object, the curators had a single Peanuts comic on display.
Should You Visit the Museum of the Dog?
The AKC Museum of the Dog is a perfectly nice little museum. It’s very well designed, makes great use of its space, and doesn’t overwhelm the visitor. It’s a fun tribute to dogs, albeit one that’s very heavy on forgettable (except for that poodle) paintings and curios as the expression of dog.
The emphasis on dogs as breeds, as objects that humans create and curate, took some of the joy out of the subject for me. I hope future exhibits look more at dogs in other lights, but given what the AKC does for a living, I’m not optimistic about that.
I’m not sure who the Museum of the Dog wants as its audience. It’s a natural topic for a kid-focused institution, but aside from a rather boring interactive dog training simulator and an activity area in the library there’s not much here that would appeal to kids.
Fundamentally, if you’re an AKC member you should absolutely go — you’re self-selected (I’d almost say bred) to love it. If you deeply love dogs, deeply, you might like it, too. For everyone else, $15 feels steep for what they have on display and what you learn.
|101 Park Avenue, Manhattan (entrance on East 40th Street)
|General Admission: $15