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From Shoebox to White Cube: A Roundup of Homemade Pet Museums

Two-year-old guinea pig Maisie with a work after Frida Kahlo, “Self Portrait Dedicated to Dr. DoLittle” (images courtesy of Teresa Mistretta)

The pandemic has taken a serious toll on the cultural sphere, with institutions large and small shuttering worldwide. But in one niche sector of the industry, business is booming: animal museums, the new pastime of quarantining art-loving pet owners everywhere.

Hyperallergic reported on the first-ever Gerbil Museum in London and the Gecko Museum in Texas, and even brought you a scoop on a Kusama room for a very VIP lizard in California. Today, we celebrate the art that is turning shoeboxes into white-cube galleries for confused-looking animals that are none the wiser with a roundup of the best pet museums and spaces, in no particular rank:

The Piggenheim Collection, New Jersey

Move over, Peggy: this two-year-old, impeccably-groomed guinea pig from New Jersey with a sharp eye and expensive taste may just dethrone one of the art world’s most well-known patrons. The Piggenheim Collection is the brainchild of Maisie the guinea pig’s owner Teresa Mistretta and includes the rare “Self Portrait Dedicated to Dr. DoLittle,” after Frida Kahlo, as well as “The Treachery of Vegetables,” a spin on French surrealist René Magritte’s famous “Ceci n’est pas une pipe.”

Maisie during her private tour of the Piggenheim Collection in New Jersey.
Maisie caught entranced by a painting after Henri Rousseau.
René Magritte’s seminal painting “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” (1929) reimagined with a visual that Maisie will be especially responsive to.
Maisie heads to the members-only rooftop reception after a long and exhausting day at the museum. (Of this image, Mistretta says: “This is not a wig, it’s a guinea pig.”)

Musée de BudgerigART, Delaware

The Musée de BudgerigART in Delaware (images courtesy of Rebecca Keen)

The name of this cutting-edge, open-layout institution founded by Rebecca Keen is a clever pun on “budgerigar,” a species of small parrots also known as budgies. Its visitors are just as creatively named: Sweetie Bell and Fluttershy, inspired by the popular kids’ show My Little Pony and chosen by Keen’s daughter; Sean-Oliver; Juliette; and the fittingly-christened Starry Night. (Mortimer and Tracer, Keen’s two other budgies, declined to participate; they probably think art is for the birds.)

The museum is complete with a site-specific and interactive aerial sculpture that would make Alexander Calder wish he had become an ornithologist.

“Nightsquawks,” after Edward Hopper, one of the museum’s most highly-appraised acquisitions.
Two visitors admiring the masterpieces.
The large interactive aerial sculpture is perfect for a post-gallery tour perch.

Bubba the Turtle’s Gallery

Bubba the Turtle in their very own salon-style gallery (images courtesy of George Foster)

Exclusive images from the opening of Bubba the Turtle’s salon-style group exhibition were first leaked by former football player George Foster on his Twitter. He attributes the thoughtful curatorial endeavor to his daughter Jada, who has paired a Klimt-like abstraction with such staples of the art historical canon as Grant Wood’s “American Gothic,” a work we’ve seen again and again in tours of the new fauna-friendly institutions.

Bubba could not be reached for comment, but a museum spokesperson said they would just be a shell of a turtle without art in their lives.

Bubba looks up in marvel at the seemingly endless wall of artworks.
The gallery is home to some of the most conceptual adaptations of modern masterpieces we’ve seen in the animal museum world yet.

The Kusama Reptile Room, California

Valeran Lothaniel, “A Kusama room for The Reptile,” 15 x 11 x 8.5 inches, yellow acrylic paint, black permanent marker, apple, cardboard (courtesy of Valeran Lothaniel)

Yayoi Kusama’s beloved “infinity rooms” can attract hundreds of thousands of people, some of whom wait in line for hours to experience just a few minutes in the hypnotic environments. You may be jealous to know, then, of a reptile in California with a Kusama room of their very own. But before you accuse them of being just another cold-blooded collector amassing blue-chip works in their mansion, take note: The Reptile has mild metabolic bone disease, and the sunny Kusama installation serves as a sort of “basking box” to make sure he gets his required UVB light therapy, according to owner Valeran Lothaniel.

Word on Instagram, however, is The Reptile also had a lavish virtual reality garden installed last week, with flowers by artist Tahnee Gehm. We’re starting to think he needs to, uh, scale back on his acquisitions.

The Gecko Museum, Texas

The Mayor at the opening of the Gecko Museum in Dallas (images courtesy of Jill Young / @jillisyoung)

According to our un-scientific research, a crested gecko in Dallas, Texas known as The Mayor was the second pet to get their very own art museum, as far as we know. Founder Jill Young spoke of the difficulties getting the nocturnal creature to attend the early-evening opening, but described his enthusiasm once he got past the red ropes and onto the walls. Security guards could not object to his climbing on the art as he is a major trustee.

The show’s curator chose a diverse selection of works. “Mayor has a refined and eclectic taste, and I wanted to cover a range of art genres and pieces in hopes of winning his respect,” she told Hyperallergic.
According to the museum’s founder, The Mayor’s relationship to art is a “necessarily tactile” one.

The Gerbil Museum, London

Nine-month old brothers Pandoro and Tiramisù in London’s newest art institution, The Gerbil Museum (images courtesy museum trustees Filippo and Marianna)

It’s the pet museum that started it all. Filippo and Marianna, the couple who created a miniature museum for their gerbils in London, inspired everyone who came after, marking a watershed moment in the history of art and turning the tides of museology in a major revisionist move. “They can’t read so the sign to advise the visitors to not chew [on the furniture] went completely unnoticed,” the museum’s founders told Hyperallergic, denying that the highly exclusive institution was a ploy to write off their taxes.

A selection of gerbil-inspired artworks after Vermeer, Klimt, Munch, and Da Vinci.
The museum’s main gallery before visitors Pandoro and Tiramisù could chew through the minimal furniture.