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Dreamhouse vs Punk House! Plus Cat House

is the current exhibition at Serious Topics, an artist run project space in Inglewood, California. The triptych of dollhouses-cum-kunstkammer are constructed, designed, and curated by Joshua Aster, Kristin Calabrese and Torie Zalben. Each structure, Dreamhouse, Punk House, and Cat House, are filled from basement to attic, wallpapered and painted, room by room, with miniature artworks by almost 200 artists.

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Dreamhouse vs Punk House! Plus Cat House. All Images courtesy of © Ruben Diaz

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The resulting entrancement is akin to visiting Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle or the Thorne miniature rooms at the Art Institute, but with a Jan Švankmajer-ness; a parallel sensual world that activates our most elemental sense, that of touch (albeit through memory and imagination of) jogging our childhood memory though scale and coaxes us to form meaningful relationships with things. We, as viewers, are transformed into giant anthropologists of this familiar yet unfamiliar microcosm or theater of an art world. These houses are not occupied by predicable dollhouse utilitarian do-dads but objects that speak for themselves, with our participation, our looking, and imagining provoking a dialog. The artists bring generous helpings of the ordinary made extraordinary through scale shift, sex, death, humor, and a dollop of pop culture (60’s, 80’s, 90’s and contemporary) in the form of painting, drawing, photography, sculpture, and installation. These 95 inch tall dollhouse towers tempt us to completely forget our size, entice us to get physically close to marvel at the feats of engineering and orchestration, wonder and discover. I asked painter and co-founder of Serious Topics, Kristin Calabrese, a few questions about the current exhibition, and here is what she had to say:

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Amanda Joy Calobrisi:
What initially sparked the idea for the Dreamhouse vs. Punk House project? Is the resulting show how you imagined it? How did it grow and change from the initial idea?

Kristin Calabrese:
A few years ago, Torie [Zalben] asked me if I would make a miniature painting for her dollhouse. She has actual, very elaborate dollhouses. I was inspired by the idea because I had made a lot of funky miniature house projects in the past. I asked if I could make a whole separate sculpture and vandalize it. I also thought of other artists who might be interested in making their own house sculptures. I was thinking about Louise Bourgeouis' drawings of houses on legs [...] Torie thought that was cool, so that's how our collaboration was born and grew legs. It is our first collaboration, sort of. We're really just friends and have been friends a long time, even though she's twenty years younger than me.

Torie told me her original inspiration came from traveling to Italy as a child and spending time with the artist Ludovico de Luigi who would make pen and ink drawings on napkins - small enough to fit in a dollhouse.

Josh and I took and ran with the idea. He and I are married painters who own a stretcher bar company. We made almost all of the canvasses and mailed them to the artists. We wanted the show to be a show of real paintings and not just maquettes of art, so we knew we had to give everyone something nice to work on. We also built the dollhouses, mostly from scratch, and curated most of the artists.

Amanda Joy Calobrisi:
The show consists of 3 distinct houses: Dreamhouse, Punk house and Cat House. So many design, décor, and curatorial decisions had to be made - what strategies for planning or organizing each house did you have to make? Could you talk a little bit about each of the houses?

Kristin Calabrese:
[For] Dreamhouse, Torie asked me how to get Kenny Scharf to be in the show. I told her she should get a vintage Barbie Dreamhouse or airplane off Ebay and bring it over there because Kenny loves to work with toys and the 60s. Because of a miscommunication, Torie had the vintage Dreamhouse transformed into a white walled gallery by someone who makes custom dollhouses. In the end Josh and I replaced all the walls of that Dreamhouse with structural plywood and doubled the size so we could fit more art, and then painted colorful patterns all over it that were inspired by the 60s Barbie Townhouse. There are four modular wood “room boxes” in the Dreamhouse that we mailed to individual artists for them to transform however they liked. Kenny did end up making a 2 x 2 inch painting for the show which actually wound up adorning the punk house.

For Punkhouse, Torie brought an old two story dollhouse to me in the beginning. This became the top floor of the punk house. Josh and I wallpapered and painted different floors for it. I painted the graffiti in the punk house with an airbrush. There are also two modular "room boxes" in the Punk house. One of these is Amy Sarkissian's absolutely essential punk room complete with an empty roll of toilet paper.

The Cat House was the last addition. We called it the Cat House because we sculpted a cat on it and also because we liked that it's another name for a brothel. We named the attic "Flowers in the Attic," after the controversial 1979 teen novel of the same name by V. C. Andrews. We sculpted the walls of the lowest floor to resemble the body of the hollow figure in Hieronymus Bosch's "Garden of Earthly Delights." Without showing the artists the structure, we gave everyone a choice of which house or special room to have their work hung.

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Amanda Joy Calobrisi:
Working with 200 artists is no small feat even at dollhouse scale; how did you direct the artists? What boundaries did you set? I would imagine that many of the artists made miniature versions of what they typically do on a larger scale - were there any wild surprises?

Kristin Calabrese:
Controlling the scale was not the reason we made the canvasses, but I think the show might have been impossible if we hadn't. There were a couple artists who brought pieces that were much too big because we didn't get canvasses to them, and I'm sure that would have been the norm.

It's amazing how many of the pieces are recognizable if you know the artists' work. Many are a smaller version of what they would normally do. One real surprise was Spencer Lewis's painting of a Victorian doll that he painted because he has a love for miniature painting. His work that I'd seen previously are much larger gestural abstraction. Tim Stark's painting of a nude muscled man with a huge erection was also surprising because previously I'd only seen his more atmospheric skyscapes.

Amanda Joy Calobrisi:
Because Chicago has so many of DIY gallery spaces, I couldn't help thinking that in some ways the towers were like apartment galleries stacked one atop another. In Japan, often there were galleries on upper floors in seemingly anonymous skyscrapers. What is the gallery landscape of LA like - is the apartment gallery format a ‘thing’ in LA?

Kristin Calabrese: 
This question is funny! Los Angeles is mostly single family homes, warehouses, and strip malls, completely unlike Chicago. The dollhouses just got taller as we added more artists.

Amanda Joy Calobrisi:
I keep thinking that these towers could function as time capsules and hold ethnographic importance that could be valuable in the future. Have you considered keeping these towers intact?

Kristin Calabrese: 
It breaks my heart thinking that the artwork will leave the houses on September 29th unless some farsighted institution or collector acquires them. We did make the houses with bookshelves in mind though, because one can never have enough bookshelves!

Amanda Joy Calobrisi:
Tell us a little about the Serious Topics project space and what’s next.

Kristin Calabrese: 
"Serious Topics" is an offshoot of my and Josh's stretcher bar company that's called "Stretcher Options." We're permitted to sell art and gifts, so it was sort of a natural extension of our regular business. We made a website for Serious Topics, so I think we'll keep it going even though sometimes we might have shows in other places. We dream of presenting artist solo shows where we'll provide them with all the surfaces for their show custom per their specifications-not necessarily miniature, haha. We probably won't do too many shows though because we're both artists and also busy making our own paintings.

Next up, we will have a booth in the miniature art fair, "Barely Fair" at Julius Caesar in Chicago this September.

All Images courtesy of © Ruben Diaz

Event:Dreamhouse vs. Punkhouse! Plus Cathouse
Hours:Monday – Friday from 2pm – 6pm; by appointment ONLY email
Period:March 23 – September 29, 2019
Place:Serious Topics
Address:1207 N. La Brea Ave. #300, Ingelwood CA
Contact:DreamhouseVsPunkhouse@gmail.com
URL:https://www.serious-topics.com/