Size matters

How many Mickey Mouses can dance on the head of a pin?

An interesting counterpart to Seattle Art Museum's grandiose exhibit on ancient Egypt is the Center on Contemporary Art's show on miniature art. With works such as a 3-inch painting that distills the essence of large landscapes, COCA's show unsettles the historical correlation between monumental size and expressive power in art.

The Microminiatures of Hagop Sandaldjian

Center on Contemporary Art, 728-1980

ends December 12

This association is complicated most by Hagop Sandaldjian's amusing dust sculptures, so small that each can fit inside the eye of a needle. It's tempting at first to pit SAM's and COCA's shows against each other as studies in contrast—big vs. tiny, permanent vs. ephemeral, serious vs. comic—except that Sandaldjian, who was born in 1931 in Egypt, doesn't exactly subvert the size-equals-power assertion made by his pyramid-obsessed ancestors. With works that can be seen only through a microscope, Sandaldjian reaffirms that, yes, size does matter.

Sandaldjian, who immigrated to Los Angeles in 1980, transforms banal caricatures of pop Americana—Goofy, Donald Duck, Snow White—into mind-boggling curiosities. Using self-fashioned instruments made of ground diamond dust and ruby powder, Sandaldjian joined and sculpted motes of dust and slivers of hair into uncanny likenesses of these Disney characters. With paint brushes made from individual strands of hair, he colored in cartoonish details with surgeon-like precision. Each figure took up to 14 months to finish, all the while in constant jeopardy of being destroyed by a casual move, an unexpected sneeze, or a misdirected breath. At COCA, the fragile figures are preserved in Plexiglas boxes. Viewers can see that despite their minuscule size, details such as Goofy's floppy ears and honking nose remain delightfully undiminished.

Rather than asserting his identity through gigantic projects, Sandaldjian commands the viewer's attention by working at the other extreme. Bending down and squinting to see the works, the viewer is enthralled by the artist's clever craftsmanship, not by the iconic images that are represented. One can't help seeing Sandaldjian's absurdly small Disney sculptures as a rebellion against his newly adopted, image-driven So Cal home. Not only is Sandaldjian making a joke on our culture of mass-produced, puffed-up images, he redirects the viewer's focus: We wonder about the creator and the arduous process of his work, not about his product.

 
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