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  1. 1. lclryn ]Ufftr 0x Tahe afantastical safari through artist David Bech's magical, musical hingdom By Kristen M. Scheuing s a child in Muncie, Indiana, David Beck's bela- bored drawings and pictures wouldn't last long in one piece until he got the urge to punch holes through them. You see, David, who now lives in San Francisco, had developed an early taste for 3-D, and by ripping holes into his papers, he could then build something up out of them, moving beyond simple planar pieces. Today the popular artist beckons you to step through another hole into his peculiar, provocative wonderland that brims with exqui- site craftsmanship, quirky creatures, music, movement and astute social commentary-all, cloaked in farcical comedy. OCTOBER 1999 39
  2. 2. and private spaces in his art and how they relate to each other. The public spaces are the large exteriors of his pieces - the areas which viewers see, as part of a group experience. The private spaces, he explains, are the interiors of his con- tainers, the areas that pull the spectator in, offer- ing uniquely intimate experiences. At flrst glance, "L'Opera" (I998), the artist's tribute to the world of opera, which was exhibited at the Smithsonian from December 1998, through April this year, has all the intimacy of a pick-up truck. The 78- x 50- x76'/,-inch shell is cold and foreboding with its rugged-textured, slate-gray and verdigris exterior. A dragon from Wagner's "Ring Cycle" guards the sculpture's entrance. But step up to peer into a tiny wi.ndow and the exterior gives way to a colorful and comical para- dise. The interior of the grand opera house holds a cast of 200 cavorting characters, who perform ten- minute acts thanks to an intricate system of pul- leys and electric motors created by the artist. Inside David Beck's world of opera, some char- acters are staging the final scene of Verdi's "Aida" with Radames and Aida herself on the verge of death as slaves, soldiers and beasts ofburden look on. The stage is flanked by towering carved columns dedicated to the great operas. Dozens of black and white clad clowns from Leoncavallo's "I Pagliacci" make up the giant orchestra. Connoisseurs will recognize other famous opera figures among the audience. Five imps from Boito's "Mefistofele," for instance, have shown up for the show, and there's a whole row of Brunnhildes - sporting viking helmets and breastplates - from "Die Walkure," second in Wagner's monumental tetralogy, "The Ring Cycle." David honors all of the great tragedies here, but Mozart's "The Magic Flute," seems to set the tone. One camp o[ critics sees "The Magic Flute" as a profound diatribe on good versus evil; others take it as a farce, loaded with nonsensical imagery and symbolism. Scholars may battle over the same issue when analyzing this masterpiece, which today is part of the Tully and Elise Fried- man collection. i' :' *r,{' 'Op6ra" is a good example of ? 1 *. how deceptive the exteriors of 'a David Beck's pieces can be, in ,, view of the light-hearted interi- ..1:/,/:,,r,.,r,.,,.,;lors. lt also encapsulates the contrast between the public and the private. The experience becomes intimate as viewers step up to the piece, bend closer, encircle it, anx- iously wait their turns David Beck's eclectic mix of styles and skills is seen in this shot looking toward the stage, left. Note the Moorish- style black and white checkered pattern and the ornamental wood inlay. Below, a gargoyle-like beast guards an entrance of "L'Op6ra." "David has great vision and imagination that, with his unique and particular point of view plus exquisite craftsrnanship, all add up to magic, which is what art is all about." OCTOBER 1999 4l
  3. 3. This detail of the stage of "L'Op6ra," showcases David's incredible craftsmanship and mastery of diverse media. The pillars have been painstakingly covered in eggshell. 42 DOLLHOUSE MINIATI]RES z g I s
  4. 4. A sunny interior shot of David Beck's "L'Op6ra," left, contrasts sharply with the sober exterior of his feathered "Dodo Museum," below. z g I s at tiny windows, jockeying to find the best van- tage point. In the end, more than one glimpse is needed to fully appreciate the craftsmanship and deft use of materials as diverse as copper sheeting, brass, fine woods, leather, gold leaf, eggshell, enamel, lacquer, oiI, encaustic and gouache paint- ing, glass, mink, velvet, satin moire and lights bulbs. Although "L'Op6ra" was meant to be a visual piece - "I couldn't think of a way to include music without having it compete with what's going on," David Beck says - he has incorpo- rated music and movement in much of his work. "Danse de l'Estomac" (1997), a mixed-media box construction that measures only 3%u x 31/t x 2'A rnches, incredibly contains a belly dancer and three musicians performing on stage. With a turn of the crank on the side of the box, the dancer's stomach begins to undulate as the musicians move and play their instruments. "Tunisian Noc- turne," completed the following year, is larger -6 x 6 x 2.2 inches - and also features a stage with performers that move. This piece is a tribute to the jazz classic, "Night in Tunisia." These two boxes reflect both the artist's inter- est in music - David plays baritone sax in a San Francisco jazz quartet - and in Moorish art and architecture. "I've always been drawn to [Moorish stylel," he says, and particularly likes strong black and white stripes and patterns that are common in Eastern art and architecture. The Arabic arches that adorn Moorish architecture often pop up in David's work. laudia Stone, director of the Allan Stone Gallery, calls David a genius. "He has great vision and imagination that, with his unique and particular "%*,@ee point of view plus exquisite crafts- manship, all add up to magic, which is what art is all about." She has enjoyed watching David develop as an artist over the years. "Every time I think he can't improve on something, he outdoes himself, yet nothing Ithat he created] before is diminished. He has developed a wondrous refine- ment of vision," she says. ",i Alitha Zapf , also o[ the Stone Gallery, calls David's early work "raw," pointing out that he spent a lot of time those first years in New York City scavenging garbage cans for material. It was there, for example, that he found the tlpe- writer keys that eventually ended up as tiny door handles on the many little doors that are part of his piece "Rhinorama" (1979). FromJune 4 through September lZ, !999, the Guggenheim presented 700 "Every time I think he can't improve on something, he outdoes himself, yet nothing lthat he created] before is diminished." Photo/Allan Stone Gallery, NYC OCTOBER 1999 43
  5. 5. This side of the 6'/z- x 5'/,-f oot leather- clad "Rhinorama," above, reveals some of the 60 roomboxes that feature animals acting like humans and humans dressed as animals. pieces of art constituting the largest surrealist exhibit ever shown in this country. David's "Rhi- norama," now in the Daniel Filipacchi collection, found a place of honor among the world's pre- mier surrealists including Dali, Ernst, Kahlo, Magritte, de Chirico and Man Ray. "Rhinorama" is a large, mixed-media piece the size and shape of a baby rhinocerous - 6'/, x 5'l feet. Inside the massive chassis are 60 leather-clad roomboxes. One room in the belly of the beast has been made into a theater with people dancing on the stage dressed as rhinos. World According to David Beck" - is a tribute to the extinct oddity, the dodo bird. Like "L'Opera," "The Dodo Museum" is a large, enclosed mixed-media construction (86'/, x 36 x 38 inches). The main section of the feathered museum is bursting with the giant carved like- ness of a skeleton. After putting in a stint at a Dresden, Germany, exhibit called "Darwin and Darwinism: Exhibition on Natural and Cultural History," "The Dodo Museum" today is at the Des Moines Art Center (through November) as part of the exhibit "Some- times Warm andFuzzy'. Childhood and Contem- porary Art." Consider for one moment how one single work of art can be used to exemplify two utterly differ- ent exhibits and you can begin to understand the bewitching appeal of this artist's work across all age groups and beyond classification. avid is drawn to the quirky creatures of the human race and animal king- dom. "The Dodo Museum" (1980) - first exhibited at the Smithsonian in 1993 along with three other works under the title "Fauna and Figures: The DOLLHOUSE MINIATURES44
  6. 6. David Beck's wit and diversity at play in these four roomboxes that make up the innards of "Rhinorama." z g u s *tf'**t*.. avid's taste as a collector is as eclec- # $. tic as the media he uses in his H $ pieces. His own collection is a X ,ff "mishmash" of paintings by friends, ,i$.*,*;,Fr natural history "stuff," Roman glass, African masks and reliquaries, arrowheads, stuffed birds and animals, micro-minis and little painted envelopes of Mexican voo-doo powders that "you can only find in California." The artist also claims to have the world's largest collection of chopsticks. As an artist, collector and miniaturist, David chronicles the wildly eclectic, wonderfully ani- malistic side of life. Mingling inspiration from the arts and nature, he gives a fanciful slant on life, and one that should not be taken too seriously. Through sheer quality and innovativeness, David's work is destined to move beyond any mere "intimate" following. S Serious inquiries into Dqvid Bech's work shouldbe directed to the Allan Stone Gallery, 773 Edst 90th Street, New Yorh NY, 10128: 212-987-4997. s ,9 E David Beck OCTOBER 1999 45