'Pooches at the Penthouse' offers an art exhibit both dogs and their owners can enjoy

Local dogs and their humans gathered at Penthouse Gallery in the Copycat building Friday night to celebrate the opening of "Pooches at the Penthouse," curated by Process Collective and Alloverstreet founder Kimi Hanauer and featuring both human and dog-pleasing artwork by Shelby Norton and Claire Di Salvo.

At the evening's peak, there were about a dozen dogs representing a variety of breeds and mixes, ranging from pocket- to person-size. The VIP (Very Important Pooch) guests included "The Great Grisby" author Mikita Brottman's new French Bulldog Oliver Brottman, the canine representatives of Springsteen Gallery Otis and Higgs, and this writer's old but young-at-heart Aussie mix Sadie Callahan. Two curmudgeonly cats were also in attendance, dressed in coordinating T-shirts, keeping to themselves.

As soon as the dogs were unleashed in the gated space, they sprinted around the pastel-colored agility course. With the exception of the cats and one tiny, timid lamblike pup named Lamb, all of the dogs—and a few of the humans, to an extent—were literally bouncing off the walls with excitement. One particularly gleeful Boston Terrier named Hooey spent much of the evening mounting other dogs, only some of which seemed to object.

Artist Claire Di Salvo created a menu of treats to be shared by the furry guests of honor and their humans, plus personalized take-home treat bags. The spread included pumpkin apple cookies, honey peanut butter crunches, and baby carrots, plus booze and popcorn for humans only.

Eager to explore the snack table and other dogs' asses, the pooches were reluctant to jump through the suspended hoop, climb up a set of stairs over a hurdle, teeter on the glossy seesaw, or dart through anchored, spray-painted balloons—even when prompted by treats. But the pieces didn't need the dogs to prove their artistic merit or indicate their reference to an agility course. Created by artist Shelby Norton, each piece toyed with the independently interesting designs of actual agility course pieces. Playing with a range of material textures—rubber, foam, wood, plastic—and a pastel color palette atypical of the average equipment, the objects were pulled out of their functional ordinariness by highlighting the visual appeal of their form. Norton also inserted elements of absurdity, from metallic balloons attached to the pole to a green rubber blob resembling feces sitting on a step to a painterly wash of glossy violet to turquoise covering the plank of the seesaw.

Of course, the dogs made these sculptures all the more comical, since none of the four-legged guests were trained in agility and were, for the most part, just frantically bumbling around, overwhelmed with excitement. Normally we see trained dogs on Animal Planet running through agility courses with the athletic virtuosity of their inbred ancestors.

The VIPs refreshed themselves at the ceramic water dishes, handmade by Di Salvo, placed by each sculpture, and entertained themselves with ambiguously shaped chew toys. In the back of the gallery, more chill dogs such as Lamb sat with their humans in comfy armchairs and couches, watching black-and-white video work by Di Salvo projected on the wall. The film depicted several dog and human interactions shot from dog-eye-level, including the artist teaching an attentive dog how to speak from a textbook and the bottom half of a human twiddling their thumbs between their knees as the same dog passed. Like everything else in the show, the video seemed to be designed as much for the dogs as for the human audience. The humans responded to the artwork with the same amused curiosity as their dogs, though they refrained from humping and shitting on the floor.

For many of the dog parents, the opening was the giddiest they'd ever seen their pooch, and, in our case, the giddiest we ourselves have recently felt. It's not too often that an exhibition completely breaks the austerity of the art-show protocol and elicits pure joy from the audience.

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