Over the past decade, Robert Sill began noticing a trend that disturbed him: Gallery spaces had grown, and large-scale works tended to dominate shows. But bigger isn’t always better, and Sill, a curator at the Illinois State Museum, decided that it was time for something different.
The result is think small!, an exhibit featuring an eclectic collection of approximately 100 small artworks by 35 contemporary Illinois artists. A veritable garden of colors and shapes, think small! is on display in the museum’s main gallery.
“I wanted to remind people of the place of small-scale works within the art world,” Sill says. “They’re more domestic, they’re more collectible, and there’s a whole different experience that we should treasure.”
Most of the works, created in 1999 or later, are on loan to the museum.
“I’ve borrowed from galleries, artists, and collectors,” Sill says. “Talking to my colleagues at universities and other galleries, I asked them, ‘Who’s doing really interesting small things?’
“Originally I wanted everything under 12 inches in any dimension, but smallness is considered not only in the size of the object but [also] in the miniaturization within the object.”
Accompanying the exhibit of loaned miniature works, ISM in Springfield features a special work by Anna Kunz. Kunz was invited to create a large piece based on a miniature work of hers that was exhibited at ISM’s Illinois Art Gallery in Chicago. The three-dimensional creation consists of three rows of multicolored cloth strips in a room with specially painted walls, designs, and colors as a backdrop. The work appears here for the first time.
Visitors who come to think small! expecting everything to be small are in for a surprise when they see Chicago artist Michiko Itatani’s 11-by-24-foot abstract “A Flexible Coupling.” This exhibition marks the first time that the work has been shown to the public as part of the ISM collection.
Sill explains: “For people to better appreciate what thinking small is all about, it’s important to understand how large paintings such as this can be a public, collective experience.
“The rest of the gallery requires people to get up close, and appreciating it becomes of more private one-on-one, intimate experience. When I give tours to groups, it’s interesting to see their body language with the small art. They’re not comfortable being congregated around a smaller piece. They have to take turns, coming up and looking one at a time and backing off.”
In addition to the miniature works by Illinois artists and the Itatani and Kunz works, ISM is displaying separately about 20 little works of art from its permanent collection. These works include an etching on paper by Edouard Manet, a locket portrait created in 1841, and two works by Springfield artist George Atkinson. Charlie Thorne’s sculptures of the Sears Tower and Chicago Water Tower are mounted on lipstick applicators, sans lipstick, and enclosed in clear cases that look as if they’d be impervious to a direct hit by artillery. Also particularly impressive are three pieces by Illinois State University artist Bill Conger.
think small! continues through July 31 at the Illinois State Museum, Spring at Edwards in Springfield. Museum hours are 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Sat. and noon-5 p.m. Sun.