Calling all cat-lovers! Recently we had the delightful experience of seeing the “Life of Cats” exhibit at the New York branch of the Japan Society. It’s a beautiful show, greeting us with a custom-made wooden gateway as a portal into the world of cats and the almost irrational, inordinate affection some of us bestow on these sentient beings. The “beckoning cat for good luck” (maneki neko) with its raised right paw is suggested by this amazing gate. The legend is that Japanese merchants carrying Buddhist sutras across the seas from China also brought a few cats who purred their way into the hearts of Japanese and their culture. Ninety prints on loan from the Hiraki Ukiyo-e Foundation together with other works borrowed from U.S. collections total 120 artworks of Japan’s love affair with our feline furry friends. “Hello Kitty” is just a recent reincarnation.
The ukiyo-e and paintings range from realistic — a beautiful white kitty gazing out a window at rice paddies and Mr. Fuji (created by Utagawa Hiroshige in 1857) — to the fantastic — an entire village of cats jumping rope, playing taiko drums, and walking on stilts. The fine-gauge carving of the fur almost looks fuzzy.
The strangeness and aloof nature of cats are also accentuated in this artform: elegant, but also Buddhist in equanimity and enlightenment, sometimes even depicted as humans with cat faces for a humorous, rather clown-like interpretation.
There are also cats who bring bad karma to those who are not solicitous of the correct behavior towards others. The majority of times, however, cats are believed to detect evil spirits or be mischievous like the fox.
It’s a beautiful show, greeting us with a custom-made wooden gateway as a portal into the world of cats and the almost irrational, inordinate affection some of us bestow on these sentient beings. If you have a chance, go visit “The Life of Cats” at the Japan Society in New York before June 7, or visit the website for a sampling of the artwork.