Small but perfectly formed

A guest art blogger on the huge appeal of scaled-down pieces

With many artists today creating major pieces on such a grand scale that only public spaces or institutions can accommodate them, how are private collectors to participate in acquiring and commissioning important artworks by these artists? How exactly does one go about displaying Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s new-media masterpieces, the best of which are projected with high-power Xenon lights into the night skies above dense municipalities?  How are non-institutional collectors to manage the massive assemblages of collected materials by Thomas Hirschhorn or Ai Weiwei, or the elaborately mechanised film-based installations by brilliant media manipulators such as Kerry Tribe and Eve Sussman?

Practically speaking, it’s near impossible. But market-savvy artists known for epic installations are increasingly ensuring that smaller collectable works also make their way out of their studios. I like to refer to the most interesting of these efforts as “discrete” works – actual components or relics of the larger, more involved productions. As a huge fan of Rodney Graham and Doug Aitken’s complex and visually arresting films, performances and large media projects, I am also drawn to their collectable works. Prints and presentation rights of their film and media projects are curated, produced and protected in a way that generally restricts ownership to institutions. The discrete photographs and small sculptures (starting from  $50,000 and moving up past $100,000 at auction) linked to these projects, however, are physically manageable and allow private collectors to support the artists.

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A small yet smart new wave of rising artists has taken up this production methodology with gusto. One of the most compelling is the partnership between Jennifer Marman and Daniel Borins, who work together in Toronto. Over the past 13 years their highly elaborate and cerebral installation and sculptural projects (dealing with themes such as imperialism, surveillance and authority) have been exhibited at galleries and museums including the National Gallery of Canada and the Albright Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo. Their large works – which often subvert and destabilise viewers’ expectations ­– are scaled for museums. But each of their exhibitions also includes gorgeous, collectable paintings ($5,000-$25,000) that encapsulate the serious concepts explored in their momentous installations. The paintings are not only critical components of the exciting large projects, but are also utterly enthralling and desirable as stand-alone works.

But don’t take my word for it; their debut New York City solo exhibition, Pavilion of the Blind, is showing at Tierney Gardarin, opening on September 12 and running until October 26, 2013.  While the show’s centrepiece is a massive, digitally-controlled, machine-operated sculpture that dominates the space, the elegant and superbly crafted paintings that accompany and address the museum-bound sculpture are discrete masterworks destined for sophisticated private collections.

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