June 15, 2012  |  Five for Friday
Five for Friday: The Five Stages of Cat Ownership

Five for Friday, written by a variety of MoMA staff members, is our attempt to spotlight some of the compelling, charming, and downright curious works in the Museum’s rich collection.

Our naive little brains all stuffed with visions of cuddling and companionship, my wife and I recently adopted an impossibly adorable pair of kittens. And while this new step in our domestic journey has been far from disastrous, I haven’t exactly experienced the serotonin-releasing, stress-reducing bliss I was promised (by absolutely no one). When I first got the unruly little demons home, I told my boss, “I’ll write the next Five for Friday column about collection works featuring cats. The Interwebs love cats! It’ll be huge.”

Three weeks later, my heart is still full of love for these creatures…but my arms are covered in tiny scratches and every piece of dark clothing I own is unwearable. Luckily, the breadth of MoMA’s collection is such that I was still able to find works that articulate what I, in the wisdom that only four whole weeks of cat “ownership” can impart, have identified as The Five Stages of Cat Ownership…

1. Gerhard Marcks. Little Cats (Die kleinen Katzen). 1922
Stage one: Idealism
See the sleek, intelligent little cuties depicted in Marcks’s elegant woodcut? This is what we thought we were in for. Warm laps on cold nights. Licking. Purring. An impossible combination of convenient independence and undying affection. They behaved like this for roughly 48 hours. Then reality began to settle in.

2. Jean Dubuffet. Angry Cat (Chat Furieux). 1953
Stage two: Disenchantment
Dubuffet’s lithograph captures not a literal image of an angry cat, but rather the tumult within the cat owner’s very soul. This is a time of noise, chaos, and withering self-doubt. What on Earth were you thinking? Curiosity killed the cat? No, in all likelihood the cat’s curiosity gave its owner a stroke. Did you know they don’t respond to human utterances like “stop,” “don’t,” and “that’s expensive”? Both of our cats must think their name is “Get down from there.”

3. Robert Gober. Cat Litter. 1989
Stage three: Shell shock
You can no longer be surprised—or even fazed—by your intimacy with these invaders’ bodily functions, eating habits, medical needs, and sleep patterns. Paying $30 for a large bag of lightly scented sand seems perfectly reasonable. You live in a world of litter, hair, stool samples, and veterinary appointments. You no longer jump at the sound of shattering dishes.

4. Morris Hirshfield. Angora Cat. 1937–39
Stage four: Alienation
Based on this painting, I’m guessing Hirshfield was a cat owner. He has perfectly distilled the eerie otherness of the felines that have invaded your home. You see those eyes? Even the cat is surprised at how quickly and completely you have become its slave.

5. Hajime Sorayama, Sony Corporation and company design. Aibo entertainment robot (ERS-110). 1999
Stage five: Acceptance
Despite my occasional daydreams about an obedient, easy to maintain Aibo entertainment robot, I have come to love the cuddly, wonderful terrors that have overrun my home. We will never curb their relentless exploration, vocalization, and pooping. We will never place a glass on any surface; the glass will remain in someone’s hand until it is empty and returned safely to the cupboard. But as I lay sleepless in bed with two unruly balls of fur and teeth attacking my blanketed limbs, I think it might just be worth it. That, or they have succeeded in taking full control of our minds.



Right On!!! We have 5 cats and loved this insight. We even have a cat art collection!! The kids want to have us committed. Made me laugh out loud!!! Well Done!

The entertainment robot is, clearly, a dog robot.

Beautiful , cats !!!!!

I have had cats in my life for a very long time and appreciate the observations!

Are there no cat works by women?

Cuddly kittens are powered by NASCAR hearts. Zoom, zoom, zoom, screech, sleep, zoom, zoom, zoom, screech, sleep, etc. A life long kitten and cat owner I know these little buggers very well and absolutely love them. Early feline NASCAR syndrome and all. As an artist I can take those kitten and cat love scratches much better than I can tolerate those X-acto knife and paper cuts.

Thanx for sharing these Cat-Art.
Love the Morris Hirshfield Angora Cat!
I’m a Cat-Painter myself.

Dogs have masters; Cats have staff.

Beautiful! Hits the nail right on it’s head!!!

I had to have my cat euthanized in March. Reading “the Five Stages…” had me simultaneously laughing and crying. I no longer have to worry about all the fur lying around ; the daily drudgery of scooping out and cleaning the litter box ; having to gently remove her when reading or writing at my computer (where she nestled for an inordinate time anyway until I made the decision); cleaning the rug and furniture after barfing; and hurrying to fill her food and dish bowls when she stood demandingly waiting to be fed. And I miss her everyday.

In going through the stages, the artwork for stage 1 looked innocent and joyful. Having progressed to stage 5, it looks slightly sinister. Those cats know what’s coming for you, man.

Thanks for a fun article! I will read it to my 5 cats tonight, though they’ll be unimpressed as usual.

What?!?!? The Paul Klee cat painting on the 5th floor didn’t make it into this piece?!?! OMG! There are almost always at least a few of tourists ooooing and ahhhing around it, on any given day. I always joke with my art friends that it is the most popular painting in the permanent collection at MoMA!

Well, the prime ingredient for having your focus is to have a calico cat, who is both bossy and intimate. In charge of the house, which includes the other two cats. Today I had a visitor who didn’t know about the genes of calico cats to be fiesty: he said “My wife and I just thought she was a bitch!” Well at least now they no. They were semi-feral, so they didn’t go through these stages–they have others, that go on for a loooong time.

I.m interested in seeing more …..

Having lived with cats for more than 20 years, I can definitely relate…we are, indeed, their servants. I couldn’t stop laughing. Cat hair is
everywhere…even on my husband’s office chair!

Dear Jason,

You and I are kindred cat people in the art world! I love your blog post, which many of my colleagues sent to me because I am known as the resident Cat Lady at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. My book “Cat Lady Chronicles” will be published this September (Officina Libraria/Antique Collectors Club). Have fun with your kitties.

Dear Jason,
A street cat once adopted me. Your pictured text is a perfect description of how sentiments evolved. After 3 years of perfect home sharing, my cat together with all the cats of my street disapeared. [our suspicion: they became barbecue meat outside a soccer stadium due to a fight between farmers and brasilian government] I still miss my cat!

Catching up on Inside/Out….I can’t believe I missed this one! No surprise here: I think it’s the finest FFF ever. Bravo, Jason.

P.S. Gotta get the pricey kitty litter, man. The cheap stuff just don’t stand up.

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