Battle of the Beasts


A magical diorama by Aaron Ruff at The Invisible Dog Art Center. Photo by Kacy Jahanbini.

A magical diorama by Aaron Ruff at The Invisible Dog Art Center. Photo by Kacy Jahanbini.

Galleries can definitely be enjoyed by even the youngest demographic, if you pick the right show to attend. The Invisible Dog on Bergen Street has a mind-blowing exhibit that literally looks at art through a child’s eyes.

When you walk through the bedroom door of fictitious 12-year-old boy, Mulholland Hwang, you enter his animal-obsessed imagination. “The Exploded Mind of Mulholland Hwang” is equipped with tiny dioramas, large-scale paintings, book illustrations, found objects, furniture, and anything else that could grab a child’s fancy. Informative and imaginative, you learn the strengths and weaknesses of animals like the goat or the salmon, and predict the outcome of fabricated battles between the beasts. The platypus versus the sheep! Or the anteater versus the pig! How many pigeons would it take to beat an elephant? These questions may not be answered in the show, but will certainly open a pandora box of similar thought.

The illustrations range from large-scale paintings hung on giant clipboards or chalkboards to smaller animal portraits on found book paper. The detail in the tiny dioramas are stunning and almost magical. Part “Royal Tenenbaums” whimsy and part elementary school science textbook, this exploration goes deep into a world children can understand. My three-year-old son enjoyed making animal sounds to accompany each mammal, even breaking into a heartfelt rendition of “Old MacDonald” at one point. We stayed about 20 minutes (an eternity in toddler time), before the initial wonder wore off. On our visit, there were baby bjorn-wearing-dads and toddlers oohing and aahing over the pieces, naming all the animals, and chuckling over the mash ups.

From "The Exploding Mind of Mulholland Hwang." Photo by Kacy Jahanbini.

From “The Exploding Mind of Mulholland Hwang.” Photo by Kacy Jahanbini.

The show is a collaboration between two artists, Aaron Ruff and Oliver Jeffers.  Ruff is the jewelry designer behind the innovative label Digby and Iona. His craftmanship is evident in the precision and particulars of this exhibit. Jeffers is a children’s book author and illustrator, who has penned such magical favorites as Lost and Found, a poignant tale about a boy and a penguin; and The Incredible Book Eating Boy, about a boy who prefers to chomp rather than read books. His latest is This Moose Belongs to Me–a story of an obstinate moose and the boy who owns him.

After perusing the Bergen Street gallery, stop for locally sourced lunch next door at 61 Local, a spacious gathering spot for all ages.  We noticed tables full of tweens, a grandmother holding a newborn, and  everything in between. The enormous venue has more than enough room to stash the stroller, and the communal dining tables give your kids enough space to play at the table. For picky palettes, there’s the “After School Special”: an utterly delicious almond butter and strawberry jam sandwich with apple slices on the side. And for the grownups, what’s an art opening without a glass of wine? Don’t worry, there’s craft beer and Brooklyn Brusco wine on tap.

The Invisible Dog
51 Bergen Street, Cobble Hill
(close to G/F at Bergen St.)
On view through May 18, 2013

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