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Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College
87 North Main Street, Oberlin, OH 44074


Tuesday — Friday 10:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
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The Allen's collection is particularly strong in 17th century Dutch and Flemish painting, Japanese prints, early modern art, African art, and more.

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February 19 - July 2, 2021
In Education Hallway


February 19 - July 2, 2021
In Education Hallway

The works in this exhibition incorporate things that are diminutive, wide-eyed, malleable, meek, soft, round, childish, playful—characteristics that may elicit a reaction of "aw, cute." The unguarded softness of a supine cat, for instance, or the familiar coziness of a dollhouse interior, may provoke passing sympathy or arouse deeper tenderness. When directed at an art object, even mild reactions reveal the subtle dynamics of power, attraction, and consumption that are latent in such a rote reaction to everyday things.

Cuteness is unassuming and domestic by nature, but it nevertheless manipulates our desire for fondness and attachment. Stemming from the theory of the cute outlined in Sianne Ngai’s Our Aesthetic Categories, this exhibition explores how cuteness can turn the tables on its subject and on the viewer, morphing desire into disgust and innocence into aggression. In each work, an element of softness, sweetness, or smallness exploits a common susceptibility to the vulnerable.

Organized by

Lucy Haskell ’20

Curatorial Assistant in Academic Programs


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