Upon entering the Museum of Museums (MoM), a redeveloped medical building on First Hill, through May, you’ll be greeted at reception by a large bowl filled with plastic orange goldfish. Immediately to the left is a red wall with “Cat Tower” spelled out in large blue capital letters. A brief history lesson awaits below.
“Invented in 1968 by Frank Crow, the cat tower reflects one of the most overlooked objects in the realm of design,” reads the wall.
Just beyond the red wall are a total of 12 separate cat towers, all created by artists and design companies, and they compete for visitors’ attention.
The idea is for visitors to walk around voting for their favorite cat tower by placing a goldfish in the designated cat tower bowl. These aren’t just any cat tricks: these are without a doubt some of the most epic and complex cat tricks I’ve ever laid eyes on. After a dark winter, this is how the MoM at First Hill greeted guests.
Visitors are not only encouraged to vote for their favorite via the goldfish, but also have the opportunity to bid on the towers at the end of the exhibition. But what does the public favorite win? A cash prize of $5,000 given to the animal or human shelter of their choice. The competition will certainly be tight.
After taking a month off, MoM returned and opened its doors with more than enough exhibits to keep patrons (and felines) of the arts thinking for hours. If one hasn’t been to any museums due to the pandemic in over six months (I hadn’t), then entering the MoM is like falling down the rabbit hole. From the Electric Coffin’s augmented reality exhibit upstairs to the digital Petri dish on the wall downstairs, visitors are sure to look like busy kittens mesmerized by the toys provided by MoM.
The “Cat Tower” exhibit is, as you might have guessed, all about cat towers. But each chat ride brings its own style and flourishes. There is something to love about each of them.
There’s the clearly obvious, but still charming “The Most Important Zoom Call of Your Life” tower, designed (used freely here) by Northwest artist Clyde Petersen. It consists of a simple wooden table with an old white Mac sitting on it. There are a few puzzle pieces strewn around the side of the laptop and a metal cup, as well as an attractive roll of toilet paper on the side. Petersen’s website boasts of working in a “fabulous show”. They do, indeed.
The “Most Important Zoom Call” tower design sign reads:
Why fuck with purrfection?
When a cat shows who it is, believe it.
When a lawyer looks like a cat on zoom, but then he says
“I’m not a cat,” he asks her.
Aren’t we all cats?
And so I found myself questioning my own cathood as I watched the rest of the towers and laughed at the inspirational cat posters that line the walls, reminding me and others to “be good to yourself- even, from time to time”.
My favorite tower was the one that was just as kitschy.
“MEOWlith,” by Seattle-based SHED Architecture & Design, is as captivating as it is simple. The “2001: A Space Odyssey” inspired tower was made with layered cardboard and towered over me (as it should). A few half-spheres hollowed out on either side, the one on the other side a tad higher, let a gleam of light pass through the inner tubes connecting the cutouts.
There was also “Kittie Babel,” a huge carpeted tower that any cat would happily stroll up to while the 1997 hit “Kiss Me” plays in the background. Spiraling down like a staircase, the tower weaves its way under its own arches, which have platforms all along its surfaces.
If visitors have a hard time choosing, let a chat decide for you. Feline companions are welcomed on Sundays and Wednesdays.
This isn’t the only animal-centric exhibit at the MoM. At the top of the stairs in the True Space room is “Future Machine Vol. 4”, which is more of an augmented reality experience. The neon-lit room is painted black. Upon entering you will find a sanctuary with bears, tigers and wolves contrasting with American industry: cars, engines, spaceships. Surrounding the shrine are trees and, in the corner, an abandoned campsite – unless you download the Future Machine app before entering. With your phone equipped, a man appears sitting in front of the fire. If you keep walking down the hall towards the moose covered in doilies, your phone will fill the space with a floating bear carrying a rocket.
This exhibition is a dizzying experience. There are so many layers to look at, from the animals caught between the spotlight and their curated aesthetic to the sweeping vistas of mountains and waves. The invasive nature of “Future Machine Vol. 4” is the physical metaphor for how humans shape and alter natural flora and fauna today.
Once you’ve gotten used to the daylight again, down the hallway to the Emergence Room you’ll find artwork with a much lighter tone – hundreds of themed framed artwork ” Cats against dogs” drawn by children aged 6 to 12. The rivalry has inspired some great tunes, like a cat rendition of Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” with the Seattle Space Needle in the distance. Also on the wall, don’t forget to admire an acrylic painting of a flying saucer with cat’s ears abducting a dog.
On opening night, I couldn’t get a good look inside the Charles Mudede Theater as it was packed with masked spectators mesmerized by the group film. I saw a lot of skin and some visually arresting slow motions from local artist and performer Moonyeka, which brought sparkly clothes, jewelry and acrylic nails to life. “What We Celebrate: Queer Paradigms 4 Creative Embodiment” includes short films from over 10 non-binary, queer and trans artists.
Meanwhile, some of the other exhibits are easier to see, albeit smaller. At the Supperfield Museum of Contemporary Art (a space dedicated to large-scale miniature art), there was the “Tiny Jumbo” series: small ceramic sculptures of textured objects like rugs or pebbles, which in reality are real size but, due to their presentation, appear giant. One floor down was “My Unlucky Friends,” a small series of leafy ghost portraits amidst flowers, bushes, checkerboard floors, and a friend cheating or treating. Also, don’t forget to go to the bathroom; the two on the lower level are a trip.
This season at MoM, there really is something for everyone. The exhibits will continue until early May, when the space will likely implode into something new and just as wacky – I hope.
Agueda Pacheco is a contributing writer.