07.12.16 Press

T The New York Times Style Magazine features Brent Birnbaum

“Tiny, Artistic Worlds – Inside Mini-Fridges”

by Alexandria Symonds. July 11, 2016

Peek inside the fridges and read on T The New York Times Style Magazine

“Getting a car opened up my art practice,” admits the artist Brent Birnbaum, who’s based in Brooklyn but traveled as far afield as Staten Island, Connecticut and New Jersey to acquire the materials that form the basis of his new show: 45 pre-owned mini-fridges. Birnbaum spent four and a half years driving around to collect them, hauling them back one or two at a time. He was only interested in the relatively hard to find variety with faux-wood-paneled doors — when stacked in towers up to 10 feet high, the wood grain mimics a tree. Entering “Voyeur Voyager Forager Forester,” Birnbaum’s installation of 16 of these totems at Denny Gallery on the Lower East Side is intended to feel, then, a bit like walking into a dense, humming forest. And like all forests, this one is full of surprises: Using paint and other artistic tools, Birnbaum created a lively interior for each of the fridges, filling them with everyday items from earrings to toilet-paper rolls. All you have to do is open the door. (Birnbaum shared some detail shots of these little worlds with T in the slide show below; you can also experience “opening” the fridges by sliding your cursor over the image above.)

When they’re opened, the fridges might call to mind another kind of jungle, too: the apartment buildings that populate cities. “When you open them all up, it has this feeling of just working your way up to the top, which was a big consideration,” he says. “You know, it’s a metaphor for what most of us are trying to do. We want to work our way up to the penthouse.”

And though some recognizably human elements — miniature ladders and pillows, for example — repeat throughout the interiors, Birnbaum resisted anthropomorphizing them too much. “I approached them not like a dollhouse, but like a painting,” he says. “I broke things down formally: I was moving around this circle with this diamond shape and this cylinder.” Rather than homes to tiny, imaginary people, Birnbaum conceived of the fridges as mental spaces. “I wanted them to be 45 different personalities, or a range of ones that we all go through throughout the day or year. So I wanted them to resonate, different ones with different people,” he says. “So some of them, I kept really dirty. I didn’t clean the dirtiest one — because that’s a type of person. And some I scrubbed. One of them, I cut the freezer so the Freon was released; so there’s a weird smell.”

There is, of course, something a little naughty or invasive about walking into an art gallery and touching the works on display, and Birnbaum hopes visitors to the show will embrace that feeling. “You’re not told right when you walk in that you can open them; you need to read the press release, or you might witness someone else doing it. I like the fact that you’re technically breaking the rules when you’re touching the art, so I wanted there to be some type of reward when you open them,” Birnbaum says. “It’s like you’re opening up a little secret.”

Of course, some secrets are best left unshared, and visitors to Denny Gallery won’t get to see all of the interiors — some of the fridges are intentionally stacked too high to open. “And those are the most elaborate! Those are the ones that I spent the most time on; they look the most luxurious,” Birnbaum says. “You only get to see the top if you buy it.”

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