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Little worlds, big impact 

Coming up: "The Art Show."

click to enlarge 'CANDLE IN THE CITY': Bruce Metcalf brooch at the Arts Center.
  • 'CANDLE IN THE CITY': Bruce Metcalf brooch at the Arts Center.

Until I read the catalog for "The Miniature Worlds of Bruce Metcalf," an exhibit of silver and wood pins placed in various tableaux at the Arkansas Arts Center, the reason I was so taken with the show was the originality of the concept and the work itself. The jewelry artist creates tiny big-headed, gumby-limbed silver figures engaged in various actions — setting even tinier, more human-shaped figures free from a bird cage, for example. Metcalf carves flower-headed figures and paints them in gold. Some of his figures are representational save their hands, big mitts with claws.

Then I read the catalog — always a good thing — and his intent. Miniatures, he says, draw the eye and mind in the way larger works don't. The close focus required to study them is like that a child gives a toy he's manipulating through a world of his own. That invests these pins with exaggerated story-telling ability. They are also, of course, quite beautiful objects, though the little alien people may have pitted heads, enormous eyes, or be shot through with holes. In "Advent of the Damaged Angel," feathers hang off the tiny angel's arms and his head is wrapped in linen.

Metcalf's work has been likened to the underground comics of the 1960s, mixing edginess and humor to relate a social message. Metcalf explains that "A Candle in the City of Darkness," in which one of his silver brooches — a female figure holding a candle — is set against a drawing taken from a news photo of destruction in Chechnya.

Then there is "The New Bunker Mentality," which though it may be a comment on our refusal to see past the end of our nose (and reveling in the decision) is a wonderfully funny and incredibly crafted piece, our alien man grinning wide, wearing goggles and headphones and lying on a mattress, cigarette butts strewn about, set in a concrete bunker. It could be about madness too, but it's very smart.

The exhibit also includes drawings from Metcalf's sketchbooks, fine little pencil drafts of the jewelry. The show remains up in the Strauss Gallery through Aug. 22.

Coming up Friday and Saturday is "The Art Show," an artist-organized show and sale at the Riviera Condomiums at the foot of Cantrell Hill. Exhibiting are Liz Noble, George Wittenberg, Theresa Smith, Elizabeth Weber, Emily Wood, Robert Bean, Spencer Jansen, Michelle Renee, Virmarie DePoyster, Kevin Kresse, Ray Wittenberg, Tod Crites and Kelly Edwards.

There will be a one-time $10 charge to see the exhibit, which will feature food and drink and a drawing for a painting valued at $300.

Charging people to see private exhibits has always seemed weird to me — sort of like Dillard's charging a fee to shop. Then again, bars charge covers to see musical talent. I asked Michelle Renee, artist and the publicity person for the show, for her thoughts about charging admission to an art exhibit.

Renee explained how "The Art Show," which debuted last fall, got started. She said she was complaining to her friend Ray Wittenberg about the constant requests artists get to donate work to benefit auctions that folks have paid $100 to get into, and getting nothing in return — not even free press. "If you open the society pages the people who bought the art/tickets are featured, not the artists," she said in an e-mail.

They decided to propose to developer Jimmy Moses that he let them use a condo in the River Market tower for their exhibit space — they'd get free space and he'd get free advertising. He agreed.

"But being an artist and not selling a lot right now, we were broke as far as putting on a party." They settled on a $10 per night ticket. "Everyone said, I spend that much on a cover and drinks at a bar."

This year, the group was able to make the same arrangement with the newly reopened Riviera, which is trying to attract condo buyers.

"So basically, you are paying for seeing the condo, seeing the art, eating, drinking, socializing, listening to music and being in a drawing for a free piece of art," she said. Too, a portion of the ticket price will go to the Our House shelter for its bus pass program.

"The Art Show" starts at 7 p.m. Friday and 6 p.m. Saturday.

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