Sunday, September 4, 2011

OTHERWORDLY – Optical Illusions and Small Realities

Raked Leaves being constructed by Patrick Jacobs

The current exhibition at the Museum of Art and Design in New York City features a group of forty artists who work in miniature forms. While that might easily convey a model mentality or shoebox show, the ideas and execution of these altered realities borders on the remarkable. The general theme for the show, curated by David Revere MacFadden, brought together a wide range of artists who bring a new vision to the micro world of the hand made.

The works do tend to lean toward the diorama format but opens up into the realm of built environments for the camera lens, inset worlds into walls, and globed wonders. Many artists make the scenes specifically to photograph, creating tableaus on tables in their studios and basements, setting the scene, the lights and photographing. The photos tend to then be shown in very large format photographic enlargements which make the miniature scale seem even more remarkable.

The Otherworldly collection of miniaturist works at the Museum of Art and Design is split up in the exhibit into sub-groups and themes through the floors of the museum. These include “Unnatural Nature”, Apocalyptic Archaeology”,  “Dreams and Memories”, “Voyeur/Provocateur”. I will include a few of the artists featured in the show. Their names link to web sites, interviews or other information about the artists. Click on the images for a larger view. 

“UNNATURAL NATURE” features work by artists that recreate natural environments or propose alternative visions of landscape and nature.

Patrick Jacobs creates interior wall mounted peep holes that are views into super realistic miniature scenes. The cover view lenses give a sense of extreme distance as if the interior scenes extend to a horizon of the imagination.

Raked Leaves

Mathew Albanese makes severe weather scenes and landscapes using common materials to push the realm of the real. His photographs of the tableaus are meticulously staged to give the sense of a believable landscape under the lights in the studio. .
video of Mathew Albanese's works
video of an interview

studio set up
Kim Keever delves into the realms of classical landscape with his constructions suspended in water to give an atmospheric effect. They are like Rousseau’s dreams of a perfect realm of nature but bounce between the fingers of the fabricated landscape.

Kim Keever photo studio

Amy Bennett’s works are constructed models of nature narratives that are then turned into paintings. Her works take on a new meaning within the realm of the painted surface but somehow retain the identity of a miniature scene as viewed from the distant and larger perspective. Her narrative flips like a storybook from a photo box filled with scenes from hospital waiting rooms, to familiar urban back yards and into the woods of some campground beside the lake of memory.


Didier Massard also works with super realism. His “The Monkey” took six months to make using Styrofoam, layered card and fur made from darning wool. The works are then pushed further through the lens of the camera to create the right effect.

studio set for "Diorama for the Monkey"

side detail of  'Monkey'

“APOCALYPTIC ARCHAEOLOGY” features works that reveal the darker side of the post-industrial landscape and the time-infused eroding urban environment.

Lori Nix works in the realm of the world devoid of humans. She pushes the time scale forward to show the results of a world left to the natural forces of decay and disuse. They are like post apocalyptic dreams where nature takes over. Lori was featured earlier this year on the Gallery O site.
video interview with Lori Nix

Beauty Shop

Botanic Garden

Peter Feigenbaum seems drawn to an era of the 1930’s creating street detailed street scenes of big city slums that have been ravaged by depression but still reminiscing in the nostalgia of the time. His streets are full of life and decay.
Video interview with Peter Feigenbaum

Michael Paul Smith works with the nostalgia era of classic cars, photographing them in carefully researched and built models of the time. Maybe a little slick but oh, what cars! 

Charles Simmonds is an artist whose work I stumbled on at the Whitney Museum of Art staircase back in the early seventies. His miniatures of crumbling ancient native American dwellings were fit into cracks and niches in dark alleyways or in other unexpected places. They are carefully constructed from miniature adobe bricks to resemble the abandoned cities of Mesa Verde or Chaco in the southwest.

Alan Wolfson makes scenes of urban city streets with the gritty flavor of life on the edge. His works include subway platforms, mid-city diners, the slums and red light districts. The detailing draws one into the scene to catch the smells and sounds of the scenes in the imagination.

Follies Burlesk

Subway Station (coin added for scale)

“DREAMS AND MEMORIES” includes works that capture and convey states of psychological angst, often in the form of dark and mysterious open-ended narratives.

James Casebere has a long presence in the constructed photography movement and is a seminal pioneer in working within this realm. His environmental and architectural works evoke dreams of mysterious interiors, sometimes flooded with water that perhaps refer to global issues. The work in the show is from an urban series referring to urban blight. The works were inspired by a trip through Duchess County,NY. and is a commentary on the rekless housing market boom, an unsustainable lifestyle, and the loss of the “American Dream” of home ownership.
video interview with James Casebere

This artist’s team create miniature scenes within ‘snow globe’ formats. They show narrative stories of snow blown crimes, hallucinatory dreams, weathered relationships, and small human plays on a  frigid stage of chill.

Traveler 174 a Night

The Well

Between Too Much and Me

Thomas Doyle says, "Creation of the works is a meditative process, and one that I often lose myself in". This is a common thread among all of the artists in the show…the creation of a world so filled with the stuff of life that it has the power to draw the viewer, and the maker, into the scene. Doyle’s works make light of the theme of ‘home’ as a fragile and sometimes terrifying place. Nature swallows, homes sink, floods are suspended and the tidal surge of our throw aways threatens the dream.

Refuge detail


Charles Matton was a French artist who recently passed away in 2008. He created works that delved the realm of a by-gone era from artist lofts to Victorian collections they slide into Freudian dreamscapes and collective consciousness.

Bats de Lieux

Charles Matton working on "The Loft" 

“VOYEUR/PROVOCATEUR”  connecting with subversively witty scenes, satirical commentaries on art, culture, and politics.

Joe Fig has worked on a life series making miniature replicas of creation spaces. They are the studios of famous artists, complete with the spattered paint tables, the viewing walls and the artist’s themselves placed in action or contemplative poses. The studios tell a lot about how their works were made and the studio environment working the way into the work itself.

Jackson Pollock in his studio

Jackson Pollock studio model

Frank Kunert is a German artist and another who creates the work for the photographic lens. In the constructions he slides into a subtle and sometimes hidden commentary on a bleak industrial landscape where the architecture is pushed into a word play, a satirical jab or a commentary on urbanity and the grey empty street. His works were featured in an earlier Gallery O post last year.


Menu a Deux

Paolo Ventura is an Italian artist that produces scenes that haunt us like a Fellini Circus act. Some capture the scenes of war-time Europe in a foggy tableau like a scene from a film.

Liliana Porter uses the Lilliputian realm to put tiny figures at work on giant unattainable tasks. The monumental makes the human even smaller in comparison. Liliana Porter collects her figures and materials from yard sales, antique stores and swap meets.

Ax Man 

Ji Lee also works with scale and the lesser used space overhead. He creates ultra small living room scenes in an upside down and miniaturized location at the corners of ceilings. They are invisible except for those who just happen to look up and outside their horizon line gaze.

David Lawrey and Jaki Middleton created a skyscraper view box for the show with two windows at eye level revealing an infinite array of office desks and chairs in military precision rows. By using a slanted glass pane projection technique one ghostly chair swivels back and forth behind a desk.

Consolidated Life 

Consolidated Life - interior view

There are surprises in the assembly of miniaturists. Specifically refreshing are the works of June Bum Park and Matt Collishaw :

June Bum Parks playing with cars video using the tricks of perspective to create a miniature play parking lot that he manipulates from a fifth story window. The video is speeded up to a frantic scene of hands working the job of parking cars, taking care of pedestrians and generally moving the remote scene with playful intent. Other videos included here:

“Parking” video
“Crossing” video - (video link removed by artist)

Matt Collishaw has made a 3 dimensional zoetrope that is a carousel of movement involving a garden of birds, bird nests full of eggs, snails, fish, butterflies and little boys with sticks and clubs wreaking destruction in the flickering strobe of the animated figures.

See a Tate Museum interview of Matt Collishaw

The show “Otherworldly: Optical Illusions and Small realities” will end September 18th 2011. If you are in the New York City environs be sure to see the exhibition. It is a transport into the realm of the micro world brought to you through the imaginations of thirty seven artists.

Other Links to “Otherworldly”: