Revealing transformations

By GREG COOK  |  May 28, 2014

WHAT'S FOR BREAKFAST? Toast embroidery by Klausner.

If I was going to hashtag the art of Judith Klausner, on view in her show “From Scratch” at the Sarah Doyle Women’s Center at Brown University (26 Benevolent St, Providence, through May 30), the terms that come to mind are: tiny, eccentric, historic, edible (but don’t eat them), wondrous.

She’s whittled away the cream filling of Oreo cookies to create ivory-hued cameos of symbolic Classical ladies with elaborate coiffeurs. She’s embroidered actual toast with trompe-l’oeil depictions of fake mold. She’s crossstitched Chex corn cereal with the slogan “Breakfast — The most important meal of the day.” And in her most recent transformation of food into art, she’s carefully arranged hundreds of gummy candies into a three-foot-tall art nouveau, faux stained glass peacock. Each artwork is a marvel of handcraft and ingenuity and erudite wit.

Klausner’s latest series of works (not on view at Brown) raids the medicine cabinet. One is a wedding right featuring not a diamond but a migraine pill.

Klausner resides in the Boston suburb of Somerville, where last August, she and her partner Steve Pomeroy unveiled the Mµseum, also known as the Tiny Museum, which it amuses me to believe is the smallest museum in the world. It’s a little diorama-ic gallery space, the size of a few shoeboxes but complete with 3D-printed track lighting and solar power, shoehorned into the narrow space between a couple of commercial establishments. They present rotating exhibitions of miniscule art on view to the public, free, 24/7. In an art world, obsessed with supersized conspicuous-consumption art, she believes in the delight and the power of small.

The gallery at Sarah Doyle, with its crisp, white Federalist Yankee architecture, gives Klauser’s art gravitas and plays, uh, straight man (is that the right term for a feminist institution?) for the most handsome showcase of her work that I’ve seen. I mean, when you stare across the room at that candy peacock, glowing from built-in backlighting, how can you not both not be impressed by its artistry and then giggle at the joke of its appearance in this earnest establishment?

And then the sly ecological and feminist politics of this art seeps through. Klausner interrogates what has been traditionally defined as “women’s work” — cooking, sewing, jewelry, wallpaper. She questions whether we’ve made a Faustian bargain to get the convenience of processed foods and mass-produced fabrics. And she simultaneously acknowledges how our modern labor saving foods and devices have freed up women to pursue new opportunities, to be ever more themselves.

Follow Greg Cook on Twitter @AestheticResear.

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