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Enchanted Landscapes, Fantastic Worlds, and Strange Encounters Abound in 'Otherworldly: Optical Delusions and Small Realities,' an Exhibition Exploring the Art of the Diorama

Site-Specific Installations, Photography of Fabricated Worlds, and Snow Globes by 38 Contemporary Artists, including Joe Fig, Patrick Jacobs, Walter Martin & Paloma Muñoz, Didier Massard, Charles Matton, and Charles Simonds among Others On View from June 7 – September 18, 2011

New York, NY (March 3, 2011)

The miniature worlds of the 38 contemporary artists featured in Otherworldly: Optical Delusions and Small Realities transport the viewer into fantastical lands, surreal spaces, and secret environments, challenging our sense of what is real and what is fabricated. On view at the Museum of Arts and Design from June 7 through September 18, 2011, Otherworldly features artists who are reviving and expanding the diorama as a medium for contemporary art through site-specific installation, video, photography, and even snow globes. Fifteen of the featured photographers will reveal both their hand-built dioramas and resulting photographic images—displayed separately throughout the galleries.

Organized by Chief Curator David McFadden, Otherworldly explores the varied approaches to the diorama, featuring artists from around the globe who create dioramas as free-standing sculptures, subjects for photographs, and the basis for animated videos. Each of the tiny built worlds are realized through an intense engagement with a diverse set of materials and a meticulous attention to detail that allows for the production of elaborate environments that are at once familiar and foreign. Otherworldly includes works by well-known figures such as Charles Simonds, who is creating an installation in MAD’s lobby, Charles Matton, and Joe Fig, as well as new site-specific installations by Thomas Doyle, Gregory Euclide, and David Opdyke.

“The astonishing and intricate visual effects of the art in Otherworldly both invites and disarms the viewer, pulling one deeper into a fantastical and miniature world,” said Holly Hotchner, the museum’s Nanette L. Laitman Director. “The exhibition has opened up a new arena ofexploration that the museum has long been fascinated by—photography—furthering MAD’s deep commitment to eroding arbitrary distinctions between artistic disciplines. Otherworldly is the first time the museum has so fully embraced the field as a new means of creating connections between art, design, craft, and visual imaging.”

The artists showcased in Otherworldly are connected by their dedication to traditional low- tech and hand-made processes. None of the photographic images included in the exhibition have been digitally altered or manipulated. Instead, the featured photographers construct small locales, both mythic and actual, which they then photograph using manual camera and lighting equipment. For many of them, including Matthew Albanese, Lori Nix, and Frank Kunert, the exhibition will be the first time their built models are displayed for the public. Focusing specifically on dioramas and installations as works of art, the exhibition excludes dollhouses, theatrical sets, maquettes, and architectural models.

“In a social and artistic environment in which digital programming and cyberworlds are embedded in almost every aspect of our day to day activity, these artists are taking the bold step to reengage with the tangible and going back to the roots of artistic practice,” said McFadden. “They are creating magical worlds that, whether depicting floating landscapes, haunting interiors, or abandoned rooms, are all about place, emotion, memory, and vision—both perceived and created.”

The works in the exhibition are loosely organized around four themes that provide a narrative thread for the diverse subject matters. “Apocalyptic Archaeology” introduces viewers to architectural monuments and interiors, frequently in ruin, as a means of exploring deterioration and decay. “Unnatural Nature” explores our fascination with simulating lands both real and purely imaginary. Works pertaining to “Dreams and Memories” question the nature and meaning of recalled experiences, and hidden, secretive spaces and unspoken narratives are examined in “Voyeur/Provocateurs.”

Featured artists include:

French photographer Didier Massard creates fictitious landscapes that are hauntingand eerily romantic. Realized through the painstaking creation of models and dioramas in his studio, each photograph takes months to complete. The featured photograph and accompanying diorama depict a junglescape with an, at once, humorous and startling monkey looking at the viewer. The work represents the first time Massard has ever shown a diorama in public.

British artist Mat Collishaw will display a three-dimensional, spinning, and strobe-light activated zoetrope titled, “Garden of Unearthly Delights,” which contains striking representations of early humans destroying birds, butterflies, and fish among other living creatures.

American artist Joe Fig embarked on a series of in-depth artist interviews and studio visits that led to the creation of exact small-scale dioramas of the studio interiors including the artist, furniture, and every tube of paint. Fig’s model of his studio will be featured.

For his internationally recognized large-scale photographs, American artist James Casebere takes inspiration from prisons, tunnels, flooded palaces, and the suburbs. While the models for his photographs are made from simple materials such as cardboard, paint, and Styrofoam, the photographic images evoke an intense sense of mystery. For the exhibition, Casebere will display a photograph of his diorama depicting a suburban neighborhood as well as the final image taken from the model.

The late French artist Charles Matton drew inspiration from trompe I’oeil illusions of the 17th century and traditional Dutch cabinet houses, creating magical interiors that play with our understanding of light and perception of depth. For the exhibition, Matton’s diorama depicting an endless library in which hundreds of tiny books are individually leather-bound will be displayed.

American-born Walter Martin and his Spanish-born partner Paloma Muñoz have become internationally known for the dark, and at times even sinister, scenes depicted in what is a traditionally light-hearted medium: the snow globe. From brutal murder scenes to strange encounters, the approximately 12 snow globes on display provide an insight into the dark side of humanity.

American-born artist Rick Araluce explores loneliness and abandonment in his constructed claustrophobic and desolate spaces. Always free of human presence, his environments pulse with untold stories. “The Longest Hours,” his work for the exhibition, depicts a detailed section of an interior space that begs for deeper interpretation.

“The glimpses into alternative realities created by the artists in Otherworldly engage us visually and intellectually,” added McFadden. “They heighten our awareness of reality and fallacy through visual indicators that both pull us into their worlds and hint at the optical manipulation.”


This summer, in conjunction with Otherworldly, MAD will present two public programs, dealing with innovation and the limitless possibilities of cross-disciplinary activity. David Bowie, Artist, presented as a multiplatform retrospective, reframes Bowie’s daring, discipline-defying career as a rock star, film actor, video innovator, and painter into that of a performance artist. Through a cinema series, interactive kiosks, and an online gallery, the program will showcase Bowie’s shifting body of work as an impactful influencer on a surprising variety of cultural spheres. An Assault on Reality is a cinematic survey on film’s ability to shape perception, truth, and existence. From Neo-Realism to web videos, the New Wave to reality TV, and CNN to educational programming, An Assault on Reality brings together a striking combination of cinematic works that emphatically challenge the film cannon.


Otherworldly is organized by the Museum of Arts and Design and is curated by Chief Curator David Revere McFadden.


Otherworldly is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue, which includes an essay by Chief Curator David McFadden tracing the histories of visual illusion and the diorama. A complete set of artist biographies and statements will be included along with images of the presented works.


The Museum of Arts and Design explores the blur zone between art, design, and craft today. The Museum focuses on contemporary creativity and the ways in which artists and designers from around the world transform materials through processes ranging from the artisanal to digital. The Museum’s exhibition program explores and illuminates issues and ideas, highlights creativity and craftsmanship, and celebrates the limitless potential of materials and techniques when used by gifted and innovative artists. MAD’s permanent collection is global in scope and focuses on art, craft, and design from 1950 to the present day. At the center of the Museum’s mission is education. The Museum’s dynamic new facility features classrooms and studios for master classes, seminars, and workshops for students, families, and adults. Three open artist studios engage visitors in the creative processes of artists at work and enhance the exhibition programs. Lectures, films, performances, and symposia related to the Museum’s collection and topical subjects affecting the world of contemporary art, craft, and design are held in a renovated 144-seat auditorium.

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