from chubby cats to plush toys, somerset house explores cuteness in contemporary culture

from chubby cats to plush toys, somerset house explores cuteness in contemporary culture

somerset house presents ‘cute’ exhibition

 

From January 25, 2024, Somerset House in London presents the CUTE exhibition, which explores the profound impact of cuteness in contemporary culture.  From googly-eyed cats, to adorable plushie toys and doll-inspired outfits, the show brings together contemporary artworks that delve into the global embrace of cute culture. Presented in partnership with Sanrio, the exhibition also celebrates the 50th anniversary of Hello Kitty, one of the most iconic figures of cuteness, with a dedicated plushie space, immersive disco, and a display of products spanning decades, including rare and unique items.

from chubby cats to plush toys, somerset house explores cuteness in contemporary culture
heart installation in the CUTE exhibition at Somerset House | all images courtesy of David Parry PA for Somerset House, unless stated otherwise

 

 

the pivotal role of cats in cuteness culture

 

The CUTE exhibition at Somerset House (find more here) begins with a tribute to cats. Drawing inspiration from a quote by Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, who famously cited ‘kittens’ as an unexpected use of the internet, visitors are encouraged to explore the central role of cats in the rise of cuteness culture worldwide.

 

Visitors can explore Louis Wain’s cat illustrations from the late 19th to early 20th centuries, which transformed the public’s perception of cats from working animals to cherished companions with distinctly human traits. Additionally, Harry Pointer’s The Brighton Cats series of small postcards from the 1870s played a pivotal role in spreading cuteness to broader audiences through the advent of photography and mass production techniques. The exhibition also features contemporary interpretations such as Andy Holden’s Cat-tharsis, a collection of over 300 feline figurines inherited from the artist’s grandmother, reflecting on the cultural significance of cats, and Karen Kilimnik’s The cat sitting in its favorite basket out in the blizzard, the Himalaya, which draws inspiration from Romantic painting while embodying a contemporary sense of cultural authenticity, emblematic of modern cuteness.

from chubby cats to plush toys, somerset house explores cuteness in contemporary culture
heart installation in the CUTE exhibition at Somerset House

 

 

delving into kawaii culture

 

CUTE also investigates the development of kawaii culture, showcasing rare artifacts from the Yayoi Museum in Tokyo. These include printed materials, figurines, and more from the 1910s to the 1950s, depicting a romanticized version of girlhood with Western motifs. The exhibit highlights Japan’s female illustrators of the 1960s, who added fun and flirtation to their work, challenging traditional notions of innocence. Moving into the 1980s and 1990s, the exhibition examines the fusion of Japanese, US, and UK cultures, portraying a girl’s bedroom display that reflects a shift towards a darker and more critical tone of cuteness, as seen in the music of Jun Togowa, Courtney Love’s band Hole, and Babes in Toyland.

from chubby cats to plush toys, somerset house explores cuteness in contemporary culture
monster installation in the CUTE exhibition at Somerset House

 

 

hello kitty’s 50th anniversary 

 

The exhibition will culminate with a tribute to Hello Kitty’s 50th anniversary, celebrating her global appeal and multifaceted charm. Visitors can immerse themselves in a dedicated Hello Kitty space featuring a plushie collection from avid fan Amy-Louise Allen, along with a Hello Kitty disco complete with a mirror ball.

from chubby cats to plush toys, somerset house explores cuteness in contemporary culture
Andy Holden’s cat collection on display in the CUTE exhibition at Somerset House

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Hello Kitty installation in the CUTE exhibition at Somerset House

from chubby cats to plush toys, somerset house explores cuteness in contemporary culture
Graphic Thought Facility (1990, UK). Playing dress-up with AI, 2023

from chubby cats to plush toys, somerset house explores cuteness in contemporary culture
hypersonic works on display in the CUTE exhibition at Somerset House

from chubby cats to plush toys, somerset house explores cuteness in contemporary culture
Xiuching Tsay, Drunken Gravity, 2019. image courtesy of the artist. photo by the artist

from chubby cats to plush toys, somerset house explores cuteness in contemporary culture
Ram Han, Save our souls_02 (seal), 2022. image courtesy of Ram Han

from chubby cats to plush toys, somerset house explores cuteness in contemporary culture
Hello Love by Hattie Stewart on display on Somerset House’s River Terrace

from chubby cats to plush toys, somerset house explores cuteness in contemporary culture
Works by Louis Wain on display in the CUTE exhibition at Somerset House

from chubby cats to plush toys, somerset house explores cuteness in contemporary culture
Louis Wain, Ginger Cat, 1931. image courtesy of Bethlem Museum of the Mind

from chubby cats to plush toys, somerset house explores cuteness in contemporary culture
Perfect Dream by Hannah Diamond in the CUTE exhibition at Somerset House

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Hannah Diamond, Affirmations. image courtesy of the artist

from chubby cats to plush toys, somerset house explores cuteness in contemporary culture
sugar coated pill works on display in the CUTE exhibition at Somerset House

from chubby cats to plush toys, somerset house explores cuteness in contemporary culture
womenswear by Ashley Williams on display in the CUTE exhibition at Somerset House

from chubby cats to plush toys, somerset house explores cuteness in contemporary culture
Setsuko Tamura, ‘Fancy Note’ notebook, 1960s-1970s. (c)Setsuko Tamura. courtesy to Yayoi Museum

 

 

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Katsudi Matsumoto, 'Kawaii Kurumi-chan' transfer stickers, 1943. courtesy to Yayoi Museum
Katsudi Matsumoto, 'Kawaii Kurumi-chan' transfer stickers, 1943. courtesy to Yayoi Museum
Juliana Huxtable, Untitled, 2019. image courtesy of the artist
Juliana Huxtable, Untitled, 2019. image courtesy of the artist
Julien Ceccaldi, Door to Cockaigne, 2022. Courtesy of The Artist and Modern Art, London. photographer - Robert Glowacki
Julien Ceccaldi, Door to Cockaigne, 2022. Courtesy of The Artist and Modern Art, London. photographer - Robert Glowacki
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Wong Ping, still from 'An Emo Nose', 2015. courtesy of the artist and Kiang Malingue
Wong Ping, still from 'An Emo Nose', 2015. courtesy of the artist and Kiang Malingue
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project info: 

 

name: CUTE
location: Somerset House, London

dates: 25 January – 14 April 2024

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