meet the dog inspiring joana avillez, petra collins, and eckhaus latta

Penny Bananabones is a six-year-old Basset Hound-Dachshund. She’s also the subject of Chinatown’s most exciting group show.

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Aug 9 2017, 4:44pm

There's a Chinese mall on East Broadway that's popular with nocturnal fashion folk. It's where Raf Simons staged his most recent, Blade Runner-inspired runway show, and where Opening Ceremony threw its fall/winter 17 after-party. When I visit Jeffrey Stark (a storefront-style contemporary art gallery located in the mall's basement), there's an Eckhaus Latta piece hanging on the wall. But the gallery isn't hosting another fashion outing, or a party toasting the design duo. Actually, the star of its newest show is a local dog.

Penny Bananabones is a six-year-old Basset Hound-Dachshund, and it's very easy to fall in love with her. "When I first got her, I didn't realize how much she'd change my life," Kalena Yiaueki (a producer, casting director, Penny's mom, and friend of the gallery) tells me. Initially, having a dog changed her lifestyle. Kalena stopped going out late, started waking up earlier, even quit her job. "I became, I think, the better version of myself. Because I had something that depended on me, relied on me." Penny also began to change how Kalena understood the world around them both.

"In New York, you're constantly engaging with strangers — bumping into them on the subway, saying 'I'm sorry, excuse me.' That doesn't necessarily mean you really connect with them, even if you've seen them a thousand times," she explains.

Dogs (kind of) disrupt this paradoxically anti-social code of urban behavior. They help city dwellers connect with each other, even if it's only through their pets. "Having a dog makes people pay attention to you," Kalena says, "but not really to you. People who stop to pet the dog will ask all these questions about it, but won't make eye contact with you. At the dog park, you'll know all the names of all the dogs, but not a single owner's name."

Motivated by her interest in the shifts Penny made in her life, Kalena invited 36 of her artist friends to reflect on them. The results are on view at Jeffrey Stark, in a stellar group show called Caring for Animals… Benefiting People. "Everybody who's in the show knows me or knows Penny. They might be my best friend, or someone I only know from the internet — all different versions of fans of my dog."

Penny's art world admirers include Petra Collins, Peter Sutherland, Dean Levin, M. Blash, Aine Vonnegut, and Maggie Lee. She inspired an immense range of work: from marble etchings to iPhone videos. "There were no real parameters, except that the work shouldn't be bigger than a piece of paper, since the gallery is essentially the size of a bathroom," Kalena says. Joana Avillez contributed a rainbow watercolor illustration; Miles Huston made a painting that says "God" and "Dog" in Braille. Eckhaus Latta collaborated with Penny. A yard of fabric from the duo's spring/summer 17 collection is covered in her hair.

Ryan Trecartin + Lizzie Fitch's piece, a small photograph, doesn't feature a dog, but a hamster's water bottle surrounded by a circle of chairs. To Kalena, the work is about loneliness. "I always used to feel lonely. Even if I was in a room with a thousand people, I had this sort of loneliness that existed," she explains. "When I got Penny, I realize now I never feel lonely. With a boyfriend, there's a chance you'll break up. But with a dog, it's like: 'I know you're in it unless I die or you do!'"

In this way, the show isn't only about the impact Penny has made on Kalena. Nor is it just about exchanges of dependence and affection and touch — about new possibilities in human social relationships. It's also about death."Dogs teach you about loss," says Kalena, who sees the exhibition as a kind of 'living wake' for Penny. "You love things and then they go away, and you have to have enough courage and strength to love something else."

More than anything, though, Caring for Animals is a celebration of dogs as entrées into more humorous, aware, and intimate ways of living. "Dogs think you're perfect just because you're there," says Kalena. "You don't have to be the most beautiful, the funniest. Your presence is enough."

'Caring for Animals… Benefiting People' is on view at Jeffrey Stark Gallery through August 27. More information here.

Credits


Text Emily Manning
Photography Timothy Doyon
Maggie Lee, This is a story about a girl named Lucky, 2017. Nicky Lesser, Red Dog, 2017
Dean Levin, Dog Eat Dog, 2017
Joana Avillez, Penny the Princess, 2017
Eckhaus Latta, Untitled, 2017
Ben Wolf Noam, Penny, 2017