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The gigantic power of tiny art
le-pouvoir-gigantesque-de-lart-minuscule - ARTACTIF
November 2023 | Reading time: 18 Min | 0 Comment(s)

About micro-art, which is perfectly suited to new economic, social and ecological practices because it saves space and resources.

With its full-page spread devoted to Maurizio Cattelan's sculpture in the form of a Lilliputian self-portrait, photographed in a library where the books are consequently gigantic, the September issue of Beaux Arts Magazine is an irresistible temptation to delve into its dossier devoted to micro-art. And just what you need: it's as fascinating as it is inspiring! "From the world's smallest painting to microscopic sculptures, tiny art responds to contemporary monumental achievements with humility of gesture and economy of means," writes journalist Judicaël Lavrador in the preamble to her article. She announces a "zoom in on these special works and these artists who, more and more, are opting for modest resistance".

In addition to Maurizio Cattelan's mischievous "Mini-Me" at the opening, Judicaël Lavrador reminds us that at the Bourse de Commerce in Paris, Ryan Gander's little mouse nibbling away at a wall at ground level never fails to attract the attention of visitors, prompting them to crouch down in an attempt to understand the endearing stammerings of the work of art in the shape of a robotic animal... while one gigantic installation and projection follows another in the neighbouring Rotonde. "While contemporary art is all too often able to think big and grand by deploying monumental or immersive works, pieces the size of a mouse, and even smaller ones, resist with panache," points out the art magazine's journalist.

And we are reminded of Marcel Duchamp's famous portable museum, the Boîte-en-valise (1936-1941), a piece of luggage that held 69 of the artist's works of art reproduced on a microscopic scale, so that when it opened it offered a retrospective of his work in miniature! Or Robert Filliou's cap: in 1962, the Franco-American artist close to the Fluxus movement housed in it the reduced pieces of his legitimate Galerie - couvre-chef(s)- d'œuvres. Once again, the idea was to reduce the distance that the intimidating austerity of the "white cube" had created between art and spectators...

So at the beginning of the 21st century, mini exhibition spaces for contemporary art began to flourish, as a form of resistance to the new monumental art venues and cultural events inviting oversized artistic creations. The famous Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan, whose works of art for sale exploded on the contemporary art market at the end of the 2000s, went so far as to imagine an art gallery in New York that was completely inaccessible because it was so small! Measuring just 2.5 m2, Wrong Gallery nonetheless offers a full exhibition programme... with only one work of art visible at any one time, through the impenetrable glass door. A work of art that is deliberately impossible to sell. And this art gallery even had its own Lilliputian version in the form of a scale model! In fact, the artist can afford not to sell when, at the same time, one of his sculptures such as Him, a reproduction of Hitler kneeling and begging made in 2001, was sold at auction at Christie's in New York in 2016 for $15,037,403...

Those lucky enough to have visited the exhibition by Swiss artist John Armleder at Kanal, the Centre Pompidou in Brussels, in 2020, which was a repeat of his 2004 exhibition None of the Above at the Swiss Institute in New York, will certainly not have forgotten the game of hide-and-seek required to discover the works by Philippe Decrauzat and Isabelle Cornaro, which, with their postage-stamp format, crept into every corner. Not to mention the CAPC, Bordeaux's contemporary art museum, which in 2014 invited Japan's Tomoaki Suzuki to populate its space, usually given over to pharaonic projects, with wooden sculptures of three-apple-high figures.

Just as Maurizio Cattelan's rubber-resin Mini-Me can go anywhere, Sophie Varin's paintings can fit in your pocket. The miniature canvases by the French artist are peopled by diffuse characters as if emerging from a dream, while the reduced-scale figurative paintings on burlap by the American Jennifer J. Lee remind us that just because you stick your nose on a work of art doesn't mean you can see it any better... "From a distance, the motif is perfectly distinct, but from a distance, it's not. From a distance, the motif is perfectly distinct, but up close, the weave and thick texture of the canvas take over, scattering the image with a thousand tiny dots," points out Judicaël Lavrador. "Which is to say that a tiny format can act as a screen.

However, this is not always the case, as demonstrated by the photographs by Pierre Molinier currently on show at the Frac Méca in Bordeaux, which only become precisely and insolently erotic if you stick your nose right up to them! "The reason they are so small is that their size echoes the intimacy of the bodies depicted, their private pleasures, reserved for the initiated and sometimes solitary", explains the journalist. She also refers to the latest series of photos by Julien Carreyn. "Through the pink smudges of the prints that the artist has worked into their flesh, in their material of paper and plastic film, nudes, bushes and groves can barely be made out, as if in a dream. So close to the eye, and yet so far away, so sizzling and veiled in a blur that even a zoom won't dispel".

It's also hard not to be fascinated by the microscopic reproductions of masterpieces that the British artist David A. Lindon produces with a microscope measuring less than a millimetre, as shown in the Beaux Arts Magazine photograph of Andy Warhol's portrait of Marylin Monroe held in the cat of a needle, smaller than a match... Or the nano-sculptures imperceptible to the naked eye by Loris Gréaud...

But what's really magical is when miniature art can draw attention to small, seemingly unimportant things, opening the doors to a fantastic everyday life, As Australian street artist Michael Pederson has done by placing a miniature museum cordon and a "Please do not touch" sign around a dandelion that has managed to slip through the pavement, or by installing a turnstile and a sign saying "You don't have to be taller than that to enter the void" in front of a tiny gutter mouth. It's a feast for the imagination! "Because miniature art is the phantasmatic antechamber to nothing, to the immaterial, to the invisible", the Beaux Arts Magazine journalist rightly reminds us. And that's when we start dreaming, smiling beatifically...

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