There’s something immediately disarming about a diorama — engagement comes so naturally. You have lean in, maybe even pick up a magnifying glass, to see all the detail properly; it’s impossible to remain aloof and passive when you look one over. And seen up close, a diorama offers a distinctly nostalgic, familiar pleasure. The visual shorthand in them piggybacks on the grooves of imagination worn smooth in early childhood – by hours of make-believe with model trains and action figures and Barbie Dreamhouses, and the evocative, invite-you-in illustrations of beloved bedtime picture books.
For all these reasons and more, “Just like honey,” featuring artfully made dioramas by an assortment of international and regional artists is irresistible. For their contributions to the show, Air Sweet Air gallery asked participating artists to consider the contemporary flux of the built and natural worlds: “the importance of nature to human [particularly urban] life, the idea of manufactured nature, and what happens when something from nature is eliminated.”
The resulting pieces are as various as they are cleverly designed and crafted. Gumball machine-globes and palm-sized dreamscapes line the walls, each one a story caught in medias res. Here a tree swings in a manicured playground; there’s a squirrel bunker, kitted out with cozy bunk beds and Ikea shelves, stocked for the winter with can after can of nuts. Deer graze on a postmodern range grown from outmoded tech; against the opposite wall sits a box containing a Kubrickian-looking space-age arrangement of luminescent spheres. Nearby is a handmade wooden crate filled with half a dozen freedom-minded eggs, making a break for it.
Some of the dioramas are elegant, others jokey; most carry a whiff of fairy tale, and all of them urge you to slow down, to savor each remarkable detail. It’s just a joy to move through the room. If you take the kids in your life to one art show this fall, let it be this one.
Eleven artists are represented at the moment; several more dioramas will be unveiled and added to the mix this weekend, in honor of the Saint Paul Art Crawl. According to Air Sweet Air proprietor, Cheryl Wilgren Clyne, the first 100 visitors for the art crawl opening on Friday night will receive a handmade, limited-edition souvenir of the show. On Saturday afternoon, artist Alyssa Baguss, an artist responsible for a great many dioramas in the show, will be on hand to help launch a new art-making program inspired by “Just like honey,” for kids and adults alike.
“Just like honey” will be on view for the duration of the Saint Paul Art Crawl this Friday (6-10 p.m.), Saturday (noon-8 p.m.) and Sunday (noon-5 p.m.), October 12 through 14, at Air Sweet Air, 262 E. 4th St., #203, St. Paul. For more information visit the gallery website: http://airsweetair.org/home.html.