Museums

The Smallest of Worlds

When: Oct. 9-July 6 2014

Miniatures have always muddied the border between functionalism, oddity, and arts and crafts: There are dollhouses as playthings, crime scene dioramas like the “Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death,” and model planes and houses. Then there are the dioramas of artist Rex May, who sixty years ago won $100 for his design of the now-popular 49-Mile Scenic Drive sign, which depicts a white seagull. Four of his dioramas, now on view in The Smallest of Worlds exhibit at the Oakland Museum of California (1000 Oak St., Oakland), seek to celebrate scenes of town life in Mexico, using figurines painstakingly crafted and painted by a family of artisans from Oaxaca. The purpose of the dioramas isn’t to stun or playfully disorient viewers with hyperrealism; rather, it is to offer a slice of life, like a series of visual vignettes filled with miniature water jugs, Mexican flags, fruit, flower bouquets, symbols of the Virgin of Guadalupe, cacti, birds, trees, street lamps, masks, and more. They’re a heartfelt homage to “the simple life” for May, who clearly regards these scenes of community and communalism with a balance of reverence and casual intimacy.

Lenika Cruz

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