It’s been a crazy week. I’ve had the great fortune to be included in a brand new show at the Museum of Art and Design here in New York. It’s called Otherworldly, and includes a wide range of artists who use models/dioramas in some capacity for their work. Some have the model as the final piece of art, others are like me and the model is a means to an end, either a photograph or painting. Others have taken it in totally different directions including a hologram and a zoetrope!

For me it’s a big step to show the diorama along with the final photograph and I’m still not sure how I feel about it. (Generally, once I’m satisfied with the final image I dismantle the scene to make way for the next one.) So much of the final image is about lighting; it just doesn’t translate the same if you are looking at the original model. Often I have to pump the lights 15-20 times to get the right density. Just doesn’t happen in real life. Same thing when I have to use the fog machine to create atmosphere- just not the same! Before now, the only place you could see one of the dioramas was in my studio. But the fact that this was a museum show, and in a way an educational experience, made the difference for me.

All that being said, it’s pretty cool. Kathleen and I installed the work last Friday. Two sets, Beauty Shop and Violin Repair Shop, were chosen by the show’s curator David McFadden. It was lucky for me that they were manageable in size and recently completed. I don’t know how I could have stored them for any real length of time. Space in the studio is at a premium. Beauty Shop was completed earlier in the year and we had time to glue down all the different elements so installation was just a matter of pinning the ceiling in place. Violin Repair Shop was a different story. It’s the most recently finished piece so there was no time to give it the same attention. Plus, we try to reuse what we can and there’s a lot of nice, detailed pieces in that scene. The chair, tables, lights, shelves, and tools all have potential for future scenes. Gluing them down would negate that potential. Even if that stuff just ends up being background filler for another diorama it’s worth it. Trying to simulate years and years of accumulated ‘stuff’ can be very difficult. Having a stash to access helps.

In the end, Violin Shop got lodged in the doorway of the apartment as we were trying to take it to the car. We had to cut it down on one side to release it from the door jam. It took a couple of hours to install, and that’s even with us being somewhat organized. When originally packing it up, Kathleen labeled all the tiny boxes with their even tinier contents, just like if you were moving to a new house. I unpacked the boxes and she placed the items in the scene. We had to keep going around the corner to look at the photograph to get things placed correctly. Even then we realized we left crucial elements at home so we had to go back on Saturday to finish up. And by elements I mean freakin’ stand up basses that are right up front in the scene. Figures right?

One of the nicest parts to all this was talking with a security guard who was overseeing the installation. She said that she would be guarding my work for the duration of the show and that I should not worry about its’ safety. She was very interested in all of the artwork being installed, but told us that she especially liked Violin Shop. She even asked questions about it so that she could talk to visitors about the piece. We showed her some of the carved elements and she was happy to get a closer look. It was a really nice conversation.

The diorama was too big for the apartment door. Surgery was needed.

Photo by Liz Clarke

Taking a break from installing the diorama