Lilliputian Art 

Locker 50B proves that size doesn't matter in art.

If this sounds like a gimmick from "Ripley's Believe It Or Not," don't change the channel prematurely. There's nothing phony or glitzy about Locker 50B. Its young directors — Hensley is 21 and Samsel is 19 — are not publicity seekers, and while there definitely is irony and humor in their careful recreation of the gallery experience in miniature, it's not a parody of a real gallery - it is a real gallery.

Its genesis was simple enough. During the last school year, Samsel kept two lockers side-by-side: one for her art supplies and one for her own very small art. When people asked to see her work, she would escort them down the hall to her locker. Someone joked that she should turn the locker into a tiny art gallery.

So that spring, after renovations, locker No. 50B became Locker 50B - Richmond's newest nonprofit, artist-run space. Three shows followed its debut exhibit that March, and three more will go up before the new year, including its first juried, "call for entries" show, "Artless Appropriation," which opens Nov. 14.

What Samsel and Hensley created is a delight to behold: a small-scale facsimile of a full-sized gallery fitted with plywood floors, foam-core white walls and tiny LED track lights, cleverly executed on an art student's meager budget. A plexiglass sheet protects its interior behind a ratty, industrial-gray locker door, which must be opened to see inside, and a pad beneath your feet activates the tiny bulbs, which light each show. At openings the usual crowd of art-watchers — as many as 30 or 40, says Samsel — mill around the refreshments table and chat about the minuscule works of art. The overall effect is humorous, surreal and thought-provoking.

Locker 50B is also a terrific gallery. Its current show, "Knots and Bows," which runs through Oct. 23, showcases quirky, diminutive works by five full-sized young women. Each work references a world of traditionally "girly" things — crafts, sewing, hair-styling — celebrating them and subverting them simultaneously.

Deborah Hilet's "pretty-girl" hairstyles, exquisitely rendered in graphite on pink backgrounds, evoke a sentimental innocence made uneasy by their lack of faces. Josie Durkin's free-standing crustaceanlike sculpture, fashioned of fabric attached to a structure made of orange peels, seems to parody the heroic, abstract public sculptures of Calder or di Suvero, shrinking them, "softening" them, and covering them with a quilt pattern. These works are post-modern and post-feminist: rooted in the fine art, crafts and decorative arts worlds, but beholden to none of them. The same could be said of Locker 50B.

So, is Locker 50B an art gallery or a work of art? "I think it's both," Samsel says. Certainly it has artistic ancestors: the absurd miniatures of Duchamp, the surrealistic, glass-sealed curio boxes of Joseph Cornell, and the tiny villages built into wall and sidewalk cracks by Charles Simmonds all come to mind. But Samsel and Hensley's project may cross over more formal and conceptual boundaries than even those artists' work. Locker 50B is simultaneously a kinetic sculpture, an audience-participatory installation, a student's locker, an actual gallery, an ongoing performance piece, a school project, a joke … and much, much more.

Painting and printmaking department chair Richard Roth, an early champion of the gallery, agrees. "Locker 50B is a Lilliputian gallery that is enormously complex, chock-full of post-modern contradictions," he says. "For those interested in the future of art, Locker 50B should be a required destination." S

For information about exhibition scheduling or about showing work at Locker 50B, e-mail the gallery at locker_50B@hotmail.com.


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