Incredible Shrinking Art


Walking into D’Amelio Terras, you get a glimpse of God’s perspective on his own creation. Forty individuals, reduced to one-tenth of their original size, are presented for inspection, encased alone in Lucite vitrines. German artist Karin Sander has created these reproductions of real-life people using an industrial process in which lasers scan the body’s surface and transfer information to an extruder. That machine sprays layers of plastic to build the model from the bottom up, and a technician then paints it.

The subjects are a mix of art-world and ordinary people. Everyone looks cute in miniature. This pasty German executive and that unctuous curator are men you might avoid at a party; suddenly you wouldn’t mind having them in your living room. Most struck a stiff, “Beam me up, Scotty” posture as the camera’s three-dimensional eye made data of them, though there’s also a macho poseur with his arms crossed, and a kneeling, kimono-clad woman. The likenesses of those I knew seemed at once exact and oddly generic.

It’s easy to see why certain tribes (indigenous peoples or artists) are wary of having their picture taken. Images this size are so amenable to manipulation you feel like sticking pins in them. Visions of the Incredible Shrinking Man or of Alice in Wonderland vie with art-world associations: August Sander’s survey of social types (more rigorous and soulful), Charles Ray’s self-portrait in a bottle (more metaphysical), and even Vanessa Beecroft’s nudie shows (sexier but equally creepy).

The slippery spectacle, at once engaging and alienating, remains strangely resistant to interpretation. Yet despite the chill, it offers a melancholy image of contemporary anomie—as if individuals were brand names, each existing in its own sealed universe.