Bowwow House

updated 04/04/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/04/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

ONE LOOK AROUND THE NEW LOS ANGELES Museum of the Modern Poodle confirms it: The art world is going to the dogs. Specifically, to the poodles. There are poodle boot trees, poodle toilet-roll caddies, poodle liquor-bottle covers, poodle-on-velvet paintings, poodle brooches, poodle letter holders, poodle ashtrays, poodle swizzle sticks and some 800 other objets d'arf, including a tiny wire sculpture of a poodle at a fireplug. "Artists have always taken an interest in bad culture," says Doren Garcia, 40, an abstract painter and former roofer who is the museum's proud owner and curator. "Poodle culture is bad culture."

An Oakland native, Garcia admits that he has no great affection for the breed (at one time, he owned a mongrel named Fido), but he began collecting poodle paraphernalia 15 years ago, after spotting a pink plaster sculpture of two amorous poodles at a garage sale. "What appealed to me was the combination of cuteness and grotesqueness," he says.

Most of the items in the collection date from the '50s, a time of poodle cuts, poodle skirts and proliferating poodle power. The rage for grooming the animal's coal into topiary shapes, poodle pundits claim, reflected the era's nuclear-holocaust anxieties. "The poodles' fur (is cut to look like) mushroom clouds made cute," says Jack Mingo, founder of the Berkeley Pop Culture Project. Mingo says the decade's unliberated view of women also contributed to poodlemania. "Poodles," he says, "are almost a role model for that traditional female archetype: cute, pretty, unthreatening."

Because the museum doubles as Garcia's apartment, he asks that visitors call for an appointment (he's listed). Admission is free, but donations of poodleware are welcomed. As are the dogs themselves, if leashed. Says Garcia: "It's probably good for poodles to learn something about their heritage."

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