Located between two busy train platforms at the Odenplan metro station in Stockholm, Gallery 1:10 is no bigger than a dollhouse. Its current show, If You Tolerate This, includes sculptures of books by Henrik Franklins, as well as several paintings, installations, and video works — some so small they could fit in the palm of your hand.
Run by Anna Lidberg, the gallery is one of several teensy art spaces that regularly put on old-fashioned exhibitions. In Amsterdam, for example, Reflex Gallery runs the Miniature Museum, which has shown thimble-sized works and reproductions of works by more than 900 artists, including Damien Hirst, Ed Ruscha, Louise Bourgeois, Roy Lichtenstein, and Yayoi Kusama. An ocean away, in Columbus, Ohio, artist Stephanie Rond runs three tiny galleries: S. Dot Gallery, Rigsby Contemporary Museum, and the Painted Lady Feminist Museum (there’s even a film about them).
The tradition of improbable art spaces goes back to at least 1962, when French Fluxus artist Robert Fillious opened the traveling La Galerie Légitime (“The Legitimate Gallery”) inside his hat. Fillious’s gallery was a way of making art more accessible to people and the exhibition hall more accessible to artists. It was also a way of creating a space where the politics of the market-driven art world didn’t rule.
Those three goals also motivate many new mini gallerists. Gallery 1:10 explains on its website that it hopes to reach an audience that “rarely comes into contact with contemporary art.” Stephanie Rond has said, “I believe if you are not given opportunities, you should just make your own.” And John Riepenhoff, whose satirical small gallery “The John Riepenhoff Experience” is currently on view at Crystal Bridges Museum, told the curators there, “I like to think of a gallery as larger than the identity of the gallerist who started it, so I made the smallest gallery I could and named it after myself.” As galleries get bigger and go global, and as the art market continues to mushroom, little art spaces have never been more relevant.
But there’s a strange tension at work in them. They seem both irreverent and serious, a mockery of the art world and a loving expression of devotion to it. They’re also a little frustrating. We’re used to artworks that engage the body, whether by overwhelming it with size or by absorbing it in a forest of details. Looking at doll-sized art feels a lot like studying a photograph of an exhibition: you long to experience the works on a human scale, but you can’t. That’s also what makes it fun. These small galleries aren’t a replacement for normal ones, but they challenge our thinking about how we experience them and by what criteria we dole out value. As Filliou once said, “Art is what makes life more interesting than art.”