One year ago, the Supperfield Museum of Contemporary Art posted for the first time on Instagram. Then, not much happened. The pandemic, in part, delayed its opening. Its founder, though, Margaret Supperfield—"born in 1968, in the Pacific Northwest to the Northwest wing of the Esteemed East Coast Supperfields”—had been posting travel images on her own account since the previous November. By August, Supperfield wrote that she’d met with Greg Lundgren about preparing to open SMCA inside his forthcoming Museum of Museums (MoM). You see, SMCA is the size of a large doll house (housed in a small gallery in MoM), and Margaret Supperfield is a literal doll—the work of Seattle artist Jennifer McNeely.
Though they’d planned to open properly in the fall, neither museum did as the city went into a second lockdown. But if you follow SMCA and Supperfield’s Instagram accounts, you’ll see that the institution’s drama has not been stopped. There have been artists showing tiny paintings, statues, and installations. In November, after introducing one of these doll artists—“Darryl Gascan (it’s French)”—the screen for his video installation was stolen, at least according to Instagram. Then—because the driving force of SMCA is to skewer the art world’s free floating absurdities—Supperfield got Covid and went to a private healing center out on the Olympic Peninsula, which it seems is a Catholic cult she has joined.
SMCA is not alone in the city. In fact, Seattle has suddenly become a hub for Lilliputian art. In December, artist Stacy Milrany opened the Free Little Art Gallery (FLAG) outside her house in Upper Queen Anne, near First Avenue North and Garfield Street. It looks like the Little Free Libraries and Little Free Pantries all over the city, but you get tiny paintings and sculptures instead books or cans of Campbells. (There could be a can of Campbells, but here it’d track as a tiresome Warhol allusion.) It's similar to a little gallery that appeared in Portland in 2017. Since FLAG is a gallery, not a museum, you can actually take a piece home. Or leave one for someone else to take. Just don’t take the tiny patrons, the light, or the furniture, like the little benches, which it seems someone lifted—in an actual theft—along with a tiny Bernie Sanders.
Each time I come across one of the updates—or see one of the minuscule paintings at FLAG or a piece McNeely commissioned from local artists—I feel a spike of delight. It's stabilizing to have a sort of shared imagined life, an alternate dimension in which we, like the dolls, are able to step inside an art space again, without worrying over hand sanitizers and airflow and distance between you and the nearest patron (and was that a cough?) and aerosol spread. It's as if beneath all the monumental disaster of the last year, a smaller world still functions.
But these would be good fun in normal times too. The visual art world is so frequently criticized for its pretense that it’s now absorbed such criticisms, and they’ve become—frequently—part of the pretense: compulsively self-serious, affectedly weighty. So there’s no small pleasure in two new spaces bent on levity, on objects so light that you may, with just two gentle fingers, pick them up.