Everything’s Purrfect In Worcester

Dennis Yost, The Butler, pastel.

WAM Exhibit is the Cat’s Meow

by Brian Goslow

“Meow: A Cat-inspired Exhibition” is the kind of show many museums have been presenting of late that utilizes a theme aimed at attracting a larger cross-section of potential visitors — and with rare exception, who doesn’t like cats?

While my wife wondered why the Worcester Art Museum didn’t try to secure Roy Lichtenstein’s “Laughing Cat,” early Andy Warhol feline favorites “25 Cats Named Sam and One Blue Pussy,” “So Happy” or “So Meow,” or one of John Singer Sargent’s portraits featuring a cat-as-prop, and while others have wished the show was larger and louder, I’m pleased with the museum’s decision to utilize works from its vaults that have given me an expanded appreciation for genres I hadn’t previously paid much attention to.

My favorite aspect of the show was the collection of 10 Will Barnet color lithographs and screenprints, especially “Woman and White Cat” (1971), “The Book” (1975) and “Meditation and Minou” (1980). Barnet had a close relationship with the museum through David Acton, its former Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs, and gave nine of the works in the show as part of a larger gift to the museum.

“In working with David, Will found WAM a good home for his work,” said Manager of Marketing, Communications and Design Julieane Frost. “I believe Will also liked the fact that his teacher, Philip Leslie Hale, was the first head of the School of the Worcester Art Museum.” Barnet, born in Beverly, Mass., in 1911, died at the age of 101 in 2012 in Manhattan. Maybe it was the crowds surrounding it during opening weekend, but it took me three visits to fully discover the multi-levels of detail on Robert A. Nelson’s 1975 lithograph with red letterpress and graphite on paper, “Cat and Mice.” Its main subject, a huge cat with bat wings, is surrounded by mushrooms and beanstalks and armorclad mice, both dead and alive — perhaps a feline version of “Gulliver’s Travels?”

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