Alan Wolfson’s intricately detailed New York scenes evoke the gritty history of this often seamy city as he recreates the grime of the subway platform, the harsh lighting of the deli counter, and the beckoning pleasures of Times Square in the 1970s. Nostalgia for the ‘bad old days’ looms large in Wolfson’s work. His miniature urban vignettes transport the viewer into the past, allowing them to fill these tiny spaces with imagined narratives. Wolfson encourages these narratives through the depiction of “the things that people leave behind – graffiti, trash, overflowing ashtrays, a tip left on a table or a door ajar – all evidence of someone having just been there.” (1) Small details give his works an inhabited feel, but the figure is conspicuously absent: “I never include people in the environments because that would only distract the viewer by drawing their attention to the fact that they are looking into a miniature – something not real. With any of the environments, my goal is to create a space in which the viewer is totally absorbed.”
Wolfson studied art history in college, and was particularly inspired by the Surrealist box constructions of Joseph Cornell and the urban assemblages of Edward Kienholtz. His own work stands at the intersection between these two bodies of work, inheriting the diminutive scale and enclosed spaces of Cornell and the surreal urban landscape of Kienholtz. Each of Wolfson’s environments fuses real and imagined architecture to create evocative compositions that “engage us visually and intellectually by positioning the viewer in that ‘suspension of disbelief’ location somewhere between the theatrical and cinematic experience.” (2)
Every detail of Wolfson’s constructions is meticulously fabricated and assembled by hand. Each scene is researched and planned for months before building begins, and the scene is carefully arranged and rearranged until the composition is perfect. Lighting is integral to the work, as it provides the specific mood that is so critical to each particular narrative. His intricate New York scenes often recall Edward Hopper’s quiet portraits of the city, as they shine a light on the forgotten corners of a bygone era.
Alan Wolfson began constructing dioramas as a child, and he describes himself as “one of those kids who was always building things.” Growing up in Brooklyn, he visited museums often and had an appreciation for art and art history from a young age. He was awarded his first solo exhibition in 1980 at Los Angeles’ Jacqueline Anhalt Gallery, a year after graduating from Humboldt State University. Wolfson has exhibited regularly in both solo and group settings since then, with notable exhibitions at the Museum of Arts and Design, New York; the Vero Beach Art Center, Florida; and the Tel Aviv Art Museum.
1. All quotes from Alan Wolfson, “Artist Statement,” unless otherwise noted.
2. David Revere McFadden, Otherworldly: Optical Delusions and Small Realities. (New York: Museum of Arts & Design), 2011.
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