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Against all odds, a new museum has made it fun to visit old dog paintings and figurines

Quartz logo Quartz 2019-03-31 Anne Quito
a man standing in a room: Visitors at the Museum of the Dog in New York. © Provided by Atlantic Media, Inc. Visitors at the Museum of the Dog in New York.

Only the Queen of England has more dog paintings than the American Kennel Club. Comprised of watercolors, oil portraits, figurines, photographs, and sketches, the AKC’s large art collection has languished in relative obscurity inside a niche museum in St. Louis, Missouri for the past 30 years.

In a bid to invigorate the Museum of the Dog, the 134-year-old institution moved the entire collection to New York City earlier this year. Now displayed in an inviting two-level space near Grand Central Terminal, the collection has drawn hundreds of daily visitors since it opened in February.

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Adding an interactive tech layer was essential, explain Gensler principal designers John Bricker and EJ Lee, who gave Quartz a tour of the space. “Museums today are not just about seeing art,” Bricker says. “They’re competing against theater, film, and other activities. To capture attention, there needs to be a compelling reason to come.” Indeed, paying $15 to stare at 19th-century dog portraits is a purist’s pursuit.

a group of people standing in front of a store © Provided by Atlantic Media, Inc.

Among the museum’s popular new attractions is Find Your Match, a kiosk that uses facial recognition technology to pair visitors with their look-alike dog breed, much like the classical-art doppelgänger selfie app from Google Arts and Culture. Young visitors also love the Train a Dog interactive on the second floor, where they can give commands to a cartoon service dog through the magic of motion sensors and 3D cameras.

a person standing in front of a building © Provided by Atlantic Media, Inc.

The Museum of the Dog’s app provides information about the paintings and the dog breeds represented in them, and several touchscreen table displays offer a fun overview of the organization’s nearly 1,000 registered dog breeds.

Bricker says that the digital elements were designed to not overshadow the paintings, among them Maud Earl’s fine portrait of Cesar, King Edward VII’s wire fox terrier, and the painting of Millie, former US first lady Barbara Bush’s beloved English springer spaniel. Indeed, unlike other museums that create Instagrammable attractions divorced from the art, the Museum of the Dog achieves a commendable trick of bridging analog and digital.

Alan Fausel, the museum’s executive director, says the new digs have pleased both young and not-so-young canine fans. “There was concern that it would turn into a children’s museum,” he says. “We were able to straddle that.”

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