• Robert Lostutter
    Paphiopedilum, 2002
    29 X 36 inches

TINY huge

November 18, 2005—February 4, 2006

Works by Antonia Contro, Allyson Hollingsworth, Guy Limone,
Robert Lostutter, Carolyn Ottmers, Liliana Porter, Randall Sellers,
Jim Sullivan, Donna Tadelman, and Ai Weiwei

Carrie Secrist Gallery is pleased to announce “TINY huge—A Group Exhibition of Monumental Intimacies” featuring new work by Antonia Contro, Allyson Hollingsworth, Guy Limone, Robert Lostutter, Carolyn Ottmers, Liliana Porter, Randall Sellers, Jim Sullivan, Donna Tadelman, and Ai Weiwei. This exhibition has been extended through February 4, 2006.

In what has been critically regarded as “a brave, bold, and creative survey that offers its artists and audience a fun, fresh context,” this exhibition lures the viewer to seemingly walk through a “Looking Glass” and consider concepts or visuals that have been meticulously manipulated by the artist to achieve a mirrored effect—one that confuses, beguiles, and in the end makes a collective “Mad Hatter” attempt to define our time.

What is usually encountered with overwhelmed awe due to its monumental scale or dramatic impact—the skyline of a futuristic metropolis, an overhead view of an entire hemisphere with a full gamut of weather patterns, a film noir series of black and white stills in which a haunted dreamscape unfolds—is brought down to an infinitesimal visual, one that remarkably sustains the power of its original size but now might be best viewed through a magnifying glass.

What might normally be overlooked in everyday life as mundane minutiae or dismissed as bourgeois decorative excess—plants growing up in between cracks in a city sidewalk, random points on a map or the illumination of chandelier and how it affects its surroundings—is blown up to a dimension that arrests the viewer and literally forces an appreciative appraisal… a more-than-a-minute consideration… a celebratory worship of its complex detail and heavenly encompassment.

Acting as an ethereal axis for the entire exhibition is an installation by conceptual artist, curator, architect and most importantly, the inspirational father figure of the new Chinese art movement, avant-garde Chinese master Ai Weiwei. Chandelier, 2002, is a six meter high sculpture which hangs floor to ceiling like a glittering upside-down, multi-tiered wedding cake. Ablaze with light and repeating the simplified circular plan (a shape that in the Chinese traditional philosophy stands for a natural totality and one’s place between heaven and earth), the crystal installation stresses, transforms, and overturns the usual sense and form of what might be considered a gaudy object… poised between the past and the present.

Equally powerful tiny works by Randall Sellers, Allyson Hollingsworth, Liliana Porter, Guy Limone, and Donna Tadelman are lighted by Weiwei’s installation. Once viewers have had the initial thrill of virtually “hanging off the chandelier”, one turns to visit the intricate imaginary worlds conceived by Randall Sellers. This young Philadelphian artist draws perhaps the tiniest fanciful landscapes ever produced on paper—dense, mind-boggling, complex and unimaginable to execute. Strange combinations of medieval castles and science fiction flourishes are scattered about an industrial menagerie in these one inch bizarre worlds which nestle in the center of a standard 8 ½ x 11 sheet of paper. Growing up in rural Pennsylvania where his first sense of a metropolis came from seeing Superman: The Movie as a teenager, Sellers became obsessed with cities and the marvels of architecture. Moving in and out of these classical arcades, radio towers, mossy tunnels and magnificent skyscrapers (either by way of acute eyesight, the magnifying glass made available by the gallery, or by ingesting whatever Alice did… made available only in the pages of Lewis Carroll), the viewer experiences both the lure of history and the seduction of futurism happily entwined.

Juxtaposed with these fanciful landscapes are four different artists’ works that seem to all use Lilliputian figures that could easily inhabit Sellers’ cities. Internationally acclaimed Argentine artist, Liliana Porter, typically uses whimsical toys, antique figurines among other odd miniatures to create a scene or a relationship that first evokes an immediate chuckle, and then a profound sense of melancholy or meaning. Working in all media (photography, installation, video, painting, and mixed media), Porter’s contributions to this show are mixed media works in which figurines less than half a centimeter in size are affixed to a drawing that allows these minute souls to start down an unending path or to begin creating what would be a grand, mural sized commission for any human sized artist.

Allyson Hollingsworth is an exciting newcomer to the contemporary art world, snatched from possibly a more lucrative but less interesting profession of art assistant to mainstream Hollywood films (“Cheaper by the Dozen”) by actor/writer/producer/avid art collector Steve Martin to inspire and consult on the recent film version of his best-selling novella “Shopgirl”.

The central character in the film, played by actress Clare Danes, is based upon Hollingsworth’s life and work. Danes’ character makes a nighttime dash wearing only a thin cotton nightgown into a grove of spindly trees, sets the timer on her Nikon camera, and clicks images of her own freezing white figure against the landscape. The result is like the series shown here– a sleepwalking bride moving in a ghost-like manner frame to frame, herself and her surroundings lit by car headlights, producing an evocative effect like that of a Hitchcock storyboard. Composed over three years, these small, black-and-white narratives have the eerie impact of Romantic nineteenth century painting. When commenting about this series and her work on the film, Hollingsworth says “One night I dreamed about haunting my own life. This series was born of that dream.”

It has been said of hometown favorite Donna Tadelman that her “high-keyed still lifes [are] Modernist masquerades with subtle abstract investigations of shape, form, and space that are indebted to the paintings of Henri Matisse than to a more familiar representational lineage.” Here, she has broken from her usual observation of the object, (or at least the inanimate object) and created a sinewy, pulsating portrait of a male nude from behind (behind being the operable word in this case!). With a bravado like that of Delacroix’s painted flesh and a scientific dissection like that of a still life by Cezanne, Tadelman packs a classical, palpable power into her 4 x 6 inch study of what the viewer might have come to recognize as the physique of their personal trainer.

Prominent French artist Guy Limone has often stated his fascination with “narrowing the gap between qualitative and quantitative.” He notes, “By translating statistics into tangible form, the viewer is encouraged to see numbers in terms of lives instead of the other way around.” To achieve this, Limone uses tiny painted figures engaged in every conceivable activity (skiing, golfing, strolling, tight rope walking, dreaming, selling hot dogs, sex with multiple partners, tying a shoe, etc)— randomly gluing these little lives to the wall, which finally, and collectively, reveal the outline of a specific form. As the artist goes on to explain about the work shown here (with the impossibly long title) If Steel Consumption Per Person In China Were To Climb To The U.S. Level, It Would Mean That China’s Aggregate Steel Would Jump From 258 Million Tons Today To 511 Million Tons, More Than Current Consumption Of The Entire Western Industrialized World: “This work consists of 511 silver painted figurines affixed to the wall in the shape of a work by Ellsworth Kelly, an artist who has always interested me. In this case, the relationship between the title and the work is not direct apart from the number of the figures and the color. Rather, it’s about ‘playing’ with the reference of a great American abstract artist who has also produced wall reliefs and sculpture. Who says a great Minimalist artist who distills form and economic realities are incompatible?”

Also using the process of morphing the figure as a “means to an end” is another Chicago notable Robert Lostutter. The idea of “tiny and huge” has always been prevalent in this artist’s work. His remarkable watercolors—created with the same meticulous accuracy whether the work is in full size, study form, or studio notation by his now infamous “single-haired brush”—are somehow to the eye both taut and indulgent…sterile and sumptuous. An anonymous and androgynous figure, painted in the paletteinspired by Lostutter’s annual trips to Thailand, shape-shifts between vegetation, birds and oceanic creatures. The stunning and admirably painstaking control of his medium when capturing such a plentiful and overflowing subject tends to illicit the notion of making love on an operating table in the Garden of Eden.

Carolyn Ottmers offers the viewer a somewhat threatening, yet engaging, stroll through another kind of garden—a kind of winter garden or icy maze at first glance. Coming from rural Texas to become the head of the sculpture department at The School of the Art Institute in Chicago, Ottmers, a devote environmentalist, initially felt oppressed by the urban landscape that had replaced the lush vegetation that once surrounded her. She began looking for “signs of life”. What she found were weeds, fascinated by their determination to grow up through the concrete and thrive in the big city. Ottmers made these sturdy little sprigs into hybrid forms and cast large aluminum monuments from the studies. Reflections, 2005 is a series taken directly from sketches the artist made at Lincoln Park Conservatory in Chicago. The beautiful, twisting forms hang from the ceiling as to mirror all that has the possibility for growth beneath it.

Through the tangled vines of Ottmer’s installation beckons a major work by Antonia Contro—a giant constructed antique map with fictional navigational points highlighted by the artist. Peering into these peek holes at “The Harbor of Doubt”, “The Impasse of Ego” or “The Void of Ideas”, the viewer will see what awaits them at each location. Rather than a Neverland, the surprise comes when, through these makeshift telescopes, one sees Contro’s ongoing series of formal still life photography. At this point, the map entitled Discoverie, becomes something else entirely. It lets the viewer understand the aesthetic, cerebral, and emotional process of living life as an artist… an explorer. An accomplished and acclaimed draftsman, painter, photographer, and installation artist, Contro invites us along on her journey—the struggle against the elements.

And finally, we find a kind of Neverland in the fantastic landscapes of Jim Sullivan. These paintings are completely invented and have little basis in reality. In many of the long horizontal works, the image seems to act as a timeline—from left to right, a strong shift in season, weather systems, erosion and growth—suggesting an experiential passage of change.

At 3 to 6 inches high and 24 to 96 inches long, this accentuated format (along with the full spectrum of Sullivan’s Oz-like palette) provides the viewer a cinematic experience akin to that of seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time—summoning us to the edge in order to behold in his delight in detail. Paying homage to the Hudson River School and Chinese scroll paintings, these idyllic works unfurl horizontally with an enigmatic storyline.

TINYhuge is a timely exhibition, playfully suggesting both sides of Alice’s mirror into Wonderland—a place where all of our tiny/huge lives seemingly straddle, especially in the current climate. It is meant to allow stepping forward while comprehending “huge” with a squint… and likewise, taking a step backwards when considering “tiny” with an awestruck gasp.