Petropolis: A Social History of Urban Animal Companions

July 15, 2003
November 02, 2005

The New-York Historical Society is pleased to announce the opening of the exhibition Petropolis: A Social History of Urban Animal Companions, which will be on view from July 15 to November 2, 2003. The Humane Society of New York is the Historical Society's institutional partner for this diverting and thought-provoking project, which will trace the history of the relationship between city dwellers and their pets, with an emphasis on New York City over the last two and a half centuries.

Curated by New-York Historical Society Public Historian Kathleen Hulser and Associate Curator of Drawings Roberta J.M. Olson, Petropolis will survey the evolution of pets from their early appearances in the New World, where they were still linked to the wilderness or the world of ideas, through their gradual insinuation into the nuclear urban family. In many cases, these four-footed, feathered, or finned creatures, both fancy and quotidian, have displaced human offspring and spouses. In an age where urban people are being evicted for pet ownership, the New-York Historical Society will examine the unforeseen increase in pets in New York and other major cities.

The exhibition will continue to explore the new phenomenon that considers urban centers as the forefront of redefining the American family and that pets are an essential component of the post-modern family.

The exhibition will be divided into four discrete sections. "Beautiful Beasts from the Wild Kingdom" will examine the role of animal companions through the lens of portraits beginning in the seventeenth century through the Colonial and Federal eras; "Creature Comforts: Domesticity and the Nineteenth-Century Pet" will chart the gradual embrace of domestic companions through their full-blown acceptance into the human family; "Urban Animals and Spaces" will investigate how city dwellers have altered social customs and city spaces by insisting on the company of animals. Street scenes of old New York testify to the ubiquity of the urban stray, as well as the pampered pet. "Obsession: Loving Relationships and Deluxe Pet Services" will describe the growth of the range of services and devices available for companion animals in New York City, especially in recent years.

Using scores of New-York Historical's paintings, drawings, sculptures, photographs and artifacts, this exhibition affectionately examines the history of pet ownership in America's urban centers, while also probing some of the civic conflicts that have polarized pet owners and other citizens. Private loans will augment the show, which is designed for family exploration. Notable artists featured include Mathew Brady, Jesse Tarbox Beals, James Henry Beard, Edward Penfield, FGR. Roth Zito, William Wegman, Sandy Skoglund, Mimi Cotter, Hilary Knight, Mary Ellen Mark, Tony Mendoza, Jeff Koons, John Ahearn and Dirk Westphals. Public programs will include a film series and appearances by such well-known pet experts as celebrity animal trainer Bash Dibra, Broadway pet coach Bill Marone and cat therapist Carole Wilbourn.

The exhibition will be family-friendly and include some interactive elements. Children will be able to play "Dogopoly" and discover some classic children's books about pets in the city. (By the way the movie Stuart Little 2 was filmed at New-York Historical Society.)

Petropolis: A Social History of Urban Animal Companions is made possible with generous support from Nestlé Purina PetCare, The Christopher D. Smithers Foundation, Inc., Dyson Ltd., the Florence V. Burden Foundation, with in-kind support from The Humane Society of New York and PR21. Hasbro, Inc. provided a generous donation of stuffed animals. Special thanks to Carole Wilbourn, The Cat Therapist and primary feline consultant of Petropolis, who initiated the concept of Petropolis. Latka's De-licious Doggie Treats provided gift bags for the July 17 opening reception. During the run of Petropolis, The Bark magazine is offering a year's free subscription to new members to The New-York Historical Society and to members who renew. Please contact the membership department for details.

Programs at The New-York Historical Society are made possible in part with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, a State Agency, and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs. American Airlines is the official airline of The New-York Historical Society. WNYC Radio is The New-York Historical Society's valued media sponsor for the 2003-2004 season. American Express is the preferred card of the New-York Historical Society.

Through the generous sponsorship of Nestlé Purina PetCare, the creative talent of R/GA Media Group, the exhibition Petropolis: A Social History of Urban Animal Companions is now an exciting virtual experience available to a worldwide audience. Please visit http://www.purina.com/us/home.asp and click on the promotional banner "Take a Tour of Petropolis."

Creative: Tronvig Group