Mobile museum brings miniature art to rural Vermont

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View of the Vermont International Museum of Contemporary Art + Design Mobile Museum (all photos courtesy of Matt Neckers)

Every once in a while an artist tries to take contemporary art where it doesn’t normally go. Famous, between 1961 and 1964, Claes Oldenburg created “The Store” for which the artist converted his studio on New York’s Lower East Side into a storefront and stocked it with pop sculptures painted in muslin and plaster. Oldenburg emulated the visual language of retail to present his interpretations of everyday objects. Inspired by his example, in 2013 I built Instant Art Shop – a stand-alone kiosk on which art products can be displayed – and has taken it to flea markets, grocery stores, shopping malls and other public places separate from contemporary art spaces. The “shop” sold prints, small sculptures and an assortment of fine art and ephemera. The highlight of the project was when I got to explain Yoko Ono to two Amish girls at a flea market outside of Harrisburg. Or there was the time I explained to the guy in a “Yes, I’m a redneck” t-shirt that those hot pink machine gun prints were meant to emasculate gun culture. Because of these experiences, when I heard Matt Necker had created a mobile art museum, I was more than a little excited. I conducted an email interview with him, through which he shed more light on this project.

One of the rooms of the miniature museum

Neckers is an artist from the small town of Eden, Vermont (1,323 inhabitants). He came to national attention in 2011 when his sculpture “Rocket” (2011) was stolen during exposure to Helen Day’s Exposed annual outdoor sculpture exhibition. He has since opened the Vermont International Museum of Contemporary Art + Design, a four-by-four-foot gallery, he writes, “in a secret spot” in Vermont that has become, in Neckers’ words, “a destination for sophisticated art travelers.” (Neckers can be a bit of a character.) Driven by a desire to expand his audience, Neckers bought “a ramshackle vintage RV off Craigslist for $500” and spent a year turning it into a traveling Mobile Museum. He spent another two years creating hundreds of miniature works of art for the various galleries of the Mobile Museum. The museum made its debut at City Hall Park in Burlington, Vermont in August 2017, and since then it has been popping up at various venues across the state. The museum will be open to visitors from South Country Art Hop in Burlington, Vermont this weekend.

Galleries display works of art in a variety of media. A colorful wood assemblage hangs on the wall next to a monochromatic red sculpture on a white table. In another gallery, a metal mobile hangs in front of a painting. The exhibitions posed

Another exhibit at the museum

in understated rooms that read like dioramas, and the artwork on display is sophisticated and diverse. the Miniature Museum at Gemeentemuseum The Hague has more than two thousand works of art by luminaries such as Louise Bourgeois, Yves Klein and Yayoi Kusama. The art in this collection was created specifically for the Amsterdam art dealers Ria and Lex Daniëls who designed the museum in 1991. Unlike the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag collection, however, Neckers made all the art himself. same.

“As people approached the Mobile Museum, many were drawn to the vintage motorhome itself, but once inside the museum, the most common responses were ‘wow’ and ‘this is amazing. ‘” Neckers said. “After seeing the miniature artworks and galleries, almost everyone wanted to talk about what they saw.” When it debuted, Neckers was on hand to answer questions from eager viewers. “In general, almost everyone responded to the playful nature of the project and left with a smile on their face.”

The museum is free of gallery cards and the “curating” of exhibits is somewhat free. But that said, if galleries were full-size, their offerings wouldn’t be far off what their real-world counterparts are doing. The Neckers’ Mobile Museum is a mime. It can also be read as a caricature, a critique of the banality of the modern museum: as if the only way to make contemporary art interesting for the general public was to resize it differently.

Neckers plans to tour with the museum. He says,

In theory, the museum can go anywhere a truck with an RV can go, which is very exciting. When not on the road, the museum will be on permanent display at the world headquarters of the Vermont International Museum of Contemporary Art + Design. I added the word “International” to the name of the museum, because the mobile museum can now theoretically travel to Canada, provided that it can clear customs.

The Mobile Museum is making several stops this fall, including the Kent Museum in Calais, Vermont on October 8 and the South Country Art Hop in Burlington, Vermont, September 8-10. Spontaneous visits are planned in unexpected places. For more information, visit www.vtmocad.com or follow VTIMofCAD on Facebook.

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