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Small Wonders

The Tire Shop's miniscule exhibit shows that bigger is not necessarily better



The saying goes, "bigger is better." Trite, but mainly true--we love living large, and the grand scale on which we strive to operate demonstrates that size indeed matters, with any contentions to the contrary protesting too much. We super-size fast-food--triple-decker hamburgers that slap together the flesh of a thousand cows; we drive monstrous vehicles--built to mow through forests--around the block to fetch milk; we like diamonds in a dozen carats and want cable in a million channels.

We like art big, too, and it grows all the time. Paintings travel beyond corners, expanding from one gallery wall to the next, creeping onto ceilings and scuttling across floors. Sculptures surpass the limitations of life-size, outdoor installations climb past rooftops, and indoor ones claim every square foot they can get.

Nicole Welch, artist and curator of education at the Contemporary Art Museum, has noticed the amplification and responds by turning it down. Opening this weekend at the Tire Shop is small, which Welch has curated in reaction to the gigantism now prevalent in modern art and the detachment it can engender.

"It seems when people enter a gallery, the first thing they do is take 10 steps backwards," she says. "I want them to move forwards instead." Vast works don't demand our undivided attention. It's easy to amble in, give a cursory glance from a safe distance, and keep moving. small craves more from us, and by nature is designed to receive it.

The show consists of pieces no more than 2-by-2 inches, made of less volume than a slab of cake, a bar of soap, the mouse either attached to your keyboard or nibbling boxes in the pantry. They can't be dismissed with a look from yards away, but necessitate more effort; an involvement which forces a heightened intimacy. By minimizing the amount of space the artistic product stakes as its domain, Welch maximizes the potential for communication between the viewed and the viewer. "People will have to physically move themselves," Welch says. "They can't get away with just walking into the middle of the room. As a viewer, you have to be a lot more active. You have to get up close, put on your glasses. And as an artist, you have to spend a little more time thinking about it."

The elevated connection touches the creators and compels them to approach their work with patience and a gentle hand. "With a large painting, your whole body is working," says Welch, "while with something really small, it's only your fingertips or tiny brushes. You have to be careful, you can't be as violent with it. It's sort of like working with a little bomb."

For some artists, a departure from their typical methods wasn't needed. Eric Niemi currently commands the walls of Manbites Dog Theater with wee cubes of image and depth that could slip easily into ice trays, and Michael Salter has previously cast viewers as Gulliver, to tower above his lilliputian figures as they bounce on hissing speakers or balance on perilous platforms. Others were less familiar with the confines. Cici Stevens usually entices us with otherworlds in which we are, like interloping Goldilocks, seduced by her mysteriously tempting environments, just right in proportion. Also contributing are Stephen Aubuchon, Gail Peter Borden, Daniel Hamilton, Lee Moore, Daniel Sanders, Laura Snoderly, Alan Stewart and Daniel Vaughn.

Welch is herself an artist, but hasn't included her own work in this show. Instead, she's exploring the creative possibilities of the curatorial process. "I'm looking at curating as an art form in itself," she says. "In a sense, this is an installation and these are my found objects." They're objects which draw us in, for though their mass is miniscule, their gravity is great. EndBlock

An opening reception will be held Friday, May 2, 7-10 p.m. Call 829-1577 for details.

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