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Why an art hound is sniffing around the MFA Boston

14 January 2018

Introducing Rakewell, Apollo’s wandering eye on the art world. Look out for regular posts taking a rakish perspective on art and museum stories.

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, has just announced its latest hiring: a three-month-old Weimaraner puppy called Riley. The museum mutt will be trained to explore its collections and exhibitions in search of insects and pests that curators would be hard pushed to sniff out. ‘We have lots of things that bring, by their very nature, bugs or pests with them,’ says MFA deputy director Katie Getchell. ‘If [Riley] can be trained to sit down in front of an object that he smells a bug in […] that would be remarkable in terms of preserving objects’.

Unusual though his role may be, Riley is far from the first pet to take up residence in a great museum. Between the 1970s and ‘90s, the British Museum kept a number of cats to deter rodents, some of whom could apparently roll over on the command ‘sayonara’. The State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, meanwhile, has had a resident feline population since the 18th century. Last year, the institution made headlines when its unfortunate moggies had to be rescued by emergency services after a fire broke out in the basement.

As for Riley, his role is for now experimental, and may have a lot resting on it: ‘If it is something that works, it’s something that other museums […] could use as another line of defense’, Getchell told the Boston Globe. However things turn out, Rakewell suspects that the MFA’s canine conservator will prove to be of rather more service to art than Jeff Koons’s Puppy

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