As a lover of sprinkles, Polly Pocket fashion, and button quails, I was naturally drawn to the opportunity to visit an exhibition that celebrated miniature art. Through over 100 works of art, cuteness and curiosity volley back and forth with devotion to craft in the extensive conversation that is Small is Beautiful, now on view at 718 Broadway in Manhattan.
In the dimly lit space, dark walls prevent reflections on the vitrines that encase elaborate and clever scenes: The first section, titled Tiny is Funny, exposes the childish whimsy of miniature art through Lego characters and faceless model figures playfully arranged in outrageous, supremely photogenic situations. Akiko Ida and Pierre Javelle, better known as the art pair Minimiam, curate prop-specific scenes such as miniature people inflating raisins back into grapes, painting white splotches onto mushrooms, and merrymaking on a beachside made up entirely of candy and gummies.
The work in this section is geared toward younger viewers, contextualizing their day-to-day play as a respectable form of art worth delving into further. While I can appreciate finding and instilling inspiration in these basic objects, there is a stillness if not sterility in the use of these model figures that breaks the fourth wall in these scenes, preventing me from finding them immersive.
Further in the exhibition’s labyrinthine layout is where the real magic starts to happen. I’m most excited by miniature works that highlight the presence of the hand, so I was spoiled for choice with dozens of tiny paper works — from Ana Sofía Casaverde’s bite-sized flower bouquet stand to Blake Gore’s square-inch artworks including van Gogh’s “Starry Night” painted on a teabag tag. The paperworks are the beginning of the exhibition’s exploration in labor and devotion in miniature craft. These handcrafted objects are unbelievable at face value: One has to visually dissect the workmanship and imagine the artists’ necks craned, eyes focused, and hands moving ever so carefully to make the right cut, fold, and mark. This is particularly evident in the myriad of cut-paper wildlife illustrations by Nayan and Vaishali of the Paper Ark.
The micro-sculptures are just as awe-inspiring if not more so. Jasenko Đorđević’s classic carved graphite sculptures on pencil tips always impress, and Lucia Dolgopolova’s breadcrumb-sized crocheted animals flip between overwhelmingly precious and technically phenomenal. There’s something about the mini corked bottle display format that makes them even more delectable.
The star of the first floor is David A. Lindon, whose needle-eye-situated paintings and sculptures can only be enjoyed using a microscope. According to Lindon’s website, he must slow his heart rate and breathing to steady his hands and work methodically between each pulsebeat. Lindon had to create his own tools to work at this scale and said that even the smallest draft of wind could cause his work to fly away and be lost forever. I’m personally grateful for the realized concept of a microscopic Dalmatian, but art-buffs can show some appreciation for Lindon’s rendition of Banksy’s “Happy Choppers.”
The basement floor of the exhibition hosts more of the miniature dioramas and environments that employ flocking powder, 1:12 scale furniture, and exact measurements. Most of the dioramas can be sorted into hyperrealism or fantasy, but Margie Criner’s works sit somewhere between the two. Three wooden mid-century modern “vessels” have lens-like windows showcasing different interiors that Criner handcrafted as a textile and graphic designer as well as a woodworker. From a dismal-looking apartment living room to an indoor community pool, Criner selects from and expands on moments from her life for viewers to toy with and project their own experiences onto.
Like many environmental designers, Criner finds great pleasure in troubleshooting and discovering new means of creating small, functional objects and spaces. She develops all her environments and props from foam, wood, acrylic, LED lights, and other such foundational materials. Criner told Hyperallergic that her interest in miniature works was instilled as a child.
“I remember my first diorama, I was in second grade,” she said. “It was in a shoebox, and I used tiny animals that I’d collected and I put ’em in my diorama and it went in the school library and someone stole my little alligator and my dog from it.”
(Note: Even with the dissuasive vitrines, I fought the urge to pocket some of the works on display for solo adoration.)
Criner also spoke to the notion of control when it came to miniature work. “We can’t really control very much in our long lives, but if I can control four square inches for a day, I somehow feel a little better,” she explained, highlighting how it’s a meditative process. “You can also resolve something more quickly than if it was a full-scale problem. It is problematic though, and there’s a lot of swearing at times.”
Small is Beautiful, organized by the live-entertainment discovery platform Fever in collaboration with cultural event director Serge Victoria and Encore Productions, traveled from Paris to London before debuting in NYC last week. The show has no concrete end date yet, so take some time to visit, reconnect with your inner child, and appreciate the little things in life.