On Exhibit: a little work each month | Calendar | Chicago Reader

On Exhibit: a little work each month 

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Krista Peel's had half a dozen or so shows of her paintings and drawings over the years. Some of her work is quite large--one ongoing project involves creating site-specific paintings for people's homes. But her latest project is very, very small. "I've been living mostly in apartments, so I haven't had room to work on anything huge," she says. "I started working with miniatures because of the size factor, but it's also really fun to work in that scale--you can be really expansive."

In 2002 Peel, who'd graduated from the School of the Art Institute six years earlier, was casting around for a collaborative project--something that would "include other people's work to help promote them and also to share the joy of a show." What she came up with manages to fuse her love of miniatures and her fondness for shelter porn like Trading Spaces--shows that "when I watch them, I'm excited for people to be changing their outlook on the spaces that they live in."

What she came up with was a calendar.

First, she asked a slew of friends to create miniature artworks. That, she says, was the hard part. Of the nine who complied, several sent in scanned and shrunken versions of existing work. Others created small originals on a computer; one woman contributed five tiny oil paintings. The largest contribution is five inches square. Then Peel made a 14" by 12" by 20" box out of plywood and foam core, outfitted it with a couch, two chairs, and a plant from a dollhouse store, and got to work designing decorating schemes inspired by the wee pieces of art: one for each month of the year. April's room, for instance, has a multicolored floor made of paper tiles modeled after a watercolor by Michael Jefferson. And "Karl Erickson lent a bunch of silk-screened posters that are all 70s and swirly, and I was like, right on, we're making a hippie room," says Peel, describing June.

She completed about two rooms a month, photographing each as it was finished, then stripping the decor--including taking up the floor and repainting the walls. The chairs even got reupholstered each time; the only constants were the blue couch and the plant. As the project grew, she says, people started to pitch in. "I wasn't working on my master's thesis or anything," she says. "I was working on a dollhouse, and it was easy for people to get excited about it....I'd go to their house and people would be like, 'Oh, I have something for you!' and bring out these handfuls of the weirdest little objects." The top of a perfume bottle became a vase; a saltshaker from Trader Vic's became a totem in the tiki-themed room. Then she made the photographs into a calendar. "The format of the calendar was good because it gave me structure," she says. "I had to do 12 rooms, but it's the same room. I just redecorate it 12 times."

The photographs betray their small scale only in fine details of texture and material: the single moire ripple that takes up half the back of the sofa; the green shag rug that's alarmingly thick. "I'm enchanted with miniatures and how other materials can be transformed when put into that scale," says Peel. "I don't look at stir sticks or beads or fabric samples the same way, and a lot of my friends don't either. I get handfuls of sticks and plastic toys and Christmas ornaments that have all been transformed because they see them in a miniroom. It's kind of a secret joy when we share them."

"Krista Peel's 2004 Calendar," an exhibit of the original artwork (by Jefferon, Erickson, Johnny Knight, Robert Marshall, Christine Duke, Amy Sacksteder, Christopher Dye, Sheila Sundquist Berkes, and Alessandro Buccoliero), Peel's color photographs of each room, and the limited-edition signed calendar ($50), runs through January 24 at TBA Exhibition Space, 230 W. Huron. Hours are 9 to 5 Monday through Friday and 11 to 5 Saturday; call 312-587-3300 for more information.

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