At a time when everything in the art world has been dramatically scaled down, Pallant House Gallery has taken this idea literally for its summer 2021 exhibition. In a unique response to the coronavirus pandemic, the Chichester museum has commissioned The 2021 Model Art Gallery, a scaled-down space featuring specially made miniature works by more than 30 of leading contemporary British artists, including Damien Hirst, Rachel Whiteread, Lubaina Himid and Michael Armitage. Edmund De Waal, Magdalene Odundo and Grayson Perry have made miniature ceramics, Tacita Dean has produced a tiny ghostly blackboard drawing and John Akomfrah is filling an entire room with a photographic triptych evoking his multiscreen film projections.
“At the height of the first lockdown when everyone’s worlds contracted and artists couldn’t get to their studios I was thinking what can we do to create something manageable and positive out of this situation,” says Pallant House director Simon Martin, who wrote to a “wish list” of major names and was pleasantly surprised when the majority said yes.
In addition to the shrinking effect of Covid-19, another inspiration for the project has been two earlier model art galleries—the Thirty Four Gallery and The Model Art Gallery 2000—already i situ at Pallant House. The Thirty Four Gallery ontains specially made miniature works by the likes of Henry Moore, Ivon Hitchens, Paul Nash, Vanessa Bell and Henry Dobson and was created in 1934 when art dealer Sydney Burney asked his artist contemporaries to fill a model gallery to raise money for charity. This in turn inspired Pallant House to commission a New Model Art Gallery in 2000 to mark the millennium by creating a replica of the Gallery’s new wing designed by Long & Kentish and to fill it with commissioned works made by 18 British Pop and figurative artists who were already represented in Pallant House’s collection. These include Peter Blake, Antony Gormley, Richard Hamilton, Anthony Caro, Prunella Clough, Howard Hodgkin and Sir Eduardo Paolozzi.
Together this trio of model galleries create a time capsule showcasing more than 80 years of British art in miniature form, from Bloomsbury to YBA, and beyond. However, Simon Martin stresses that the 2021 gallery is more inclusive than its two companions. “It will be pretty much 50-50 male to female, which the previous ones are not,” he states, adding that “I think it is very important in the current moment that it reflects the diversity of modern Britain, not a series of dead white male artists.”
He is also adamant that the reduced scale of these galleries should not trivialise how they are regarded. The 2021 Model Art Gallery has been designed by Wright & Wright architects who are currently working with Pallant House on a new collections centre and Martin wants the exhibition to tour to other venues nationwide.
“Every single one of these works are serious, they have some serious conceptual messages in them,” he says. “ We have been having exactly the same curatorial conversations that you’d have with a full-scale building: questions about lighting, flooring, positioning. This is not a doll’s house, it’s a serious show in a serious piece of architecture.”
• Masterpieces in Miniature: The 2021 Model Art Gallery, Pallant House Gallery, 26 June-Spring 2022