Madison artist Michael Velliquette’s miniature gallery mostly exists in the mail and on the Internet.
One of Madison’s more compelling art spaces has walls of foam board and usually rests on a large table or a pair of sawhorses. It’s got rotating curated shows with defined start and end dates, original artworks, and even openings complete with mingling crowds. But for most people, the only way to visit is on the Internet.
This is Lovey Town, a project Madison-based visual artist Michael Velliquette launched in 2013. Velliquette wanted a way to collaborate with and exhibit other artists, but needed to get around the obvious geographic and budgetary limits of shipping paintings around the country or the world. So he began asking artists to send him miniature works in the mail, and constructed a mouse-maze-scale gallery space to hang them in.
“I don’t think of them as miniature,” Velliquette clarifies. "It’s not just the artists’ work miniaturized—they literally make small-scale works.”
He got the name from his nephews, who call their closet full of stuffed animals Lovey Town.
The gallery is currently showing its 11th exhibition, mixed-media artist Gyan Shrosbree’s The Glamour Is Gone, running through December 15 (although, like the previous 10 shows, it will be preserved indefinitely online). All 10 of the previous shows have been group shows.
When Velliquette started Lovey Town, he also wanted "to do something with other artists and in my studio that wasn’t so kind of tainted by the experience of making my own work and getting it out into the world,” he says. But the project soon took on a common element with Velliquette’s original work: cut-paper components. For Lovey Town’s first group show, Velliquette printed out full-body photos of the artists, cut them out, and put them on little stands so they could populate the gallery space. As the second show came together, the artists started telling Velliquette that their friends wanted to come to the opening too.
"I started getting these viewers trickling in through people emailing me their photos,” Velliquette says. "Most of these people I don’t know.”
He now has between 500 and 600 of these cutout photo-dolls, some of which are documented in the “Townsfolk” section of Lovey Town’s website. (He’s also got an info page up for people who wish to become visitors.) Most of them strike goofy poses, or contemplate the art in mock-serious attitudes. But some are doing yoga or ballet poses, and a few outliers have costumes, including a troupe of mimes. To add another layer to all this, Velliquette brought the physical gallery to the Madison Public Library on Madison’s most recent fall Gallery Night, and took people’s photos and printed and cut them out then and there.
What you eventually see on the website is photos of these cut-paper photo dolls hanging out in the miniature gallery in front of the small-scale works. The effect is that of an affectionate riff on the art world and the weird mix of socializing and art-appreciation that is an art opening. The population of Lovey Town simultaneously reflects the insularity of the art world and how Velliquette has expanded his group of friends and collaborators through the project.
Tone Madison contributor Sarah Witman and I visited Velliquette at his studio in downtown Madison in early October, when he was in the middle of setting up the current show. (We initially planned to turn it into a podcast segment, but the audio got screwed up; we interviewed Velliquette jointly). At the time, a large table in the center of the studio was covered with a pile of Lovey Town’s denizens, and the gallery itself was broken down to its foamboard components and leaning against a wall. The physical gallery has generally measured about 30 by 40 inches, though for Shrosbree’s show, it expanded to 30 by 80 inches.
“For each show, it’s become kind of a clean slate of building a whole new gallery from the ground up,” Velliquette explains. For the most part, Lovey Town the physical thing has just resided in Velliquette’s studio, though for one recent show, he shipped it to a friend in Berlin.
In addition to the elaborate conceit of the gallery itself, Velliquette creates more conceptual space to play with in the booklets he creates for each exhibition. For one, he had a group of American and German artists submit jokes, then ran them through Google Translate and printed the results. His favorites include “What’s brown and sticky? A stick” and “I wondered why the softball was getting bigger, and then it hit me.”
Occasionally, one of the artists Velliquette asks to contribute to Lovey Town isn’t quite into the concept. That said, the whole unlikely project has turned out to be more durable than your average sheet of foam board.