BRATTLEBORO, Vt. -- “Nuclear Family,” an exhibit of new work by Amy Bennett on view at the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center (BMAC) through June 16, features small paintings that tackle large topics, including marriage, child rearing, and female identity.
The smallest painting in the exhibit, “Problem Child,” is less than three inches high and four-and-a-half inches wide. In it, a girl stands near the center of a messy room, her back to the viewer, as a small fire burns in the corner. Like all the paintings in the exhibit, “Problem Child” implies a narrative, raising as many questions as it answers.
“What has the artist allowed us to see? What is implied but not seen?” asks BMAC Chief Curator Mara Williams. “When and how did the quotidian become dramatic?”
Bennett depicts realistic scenes of domesticity, but her models are not actual houses and people. Nor are they photographs. Instead, Bennett constructs elaborate 3D models and then paints what she sees, much like a still-life painter. This approach gives Bennett complete control over lighting, composition, and angle of view.
“I have always preferred working from life—observing real light hitting real objects,” said Bennett. “In searching for an approach to make narrative paintings, I worked first from dolls and then dollhouse furniture and eventually discovered the world of model railroad miniatures. I have been working at that scale, or even smaller, for more than 15 years.”
“Amy Bennett’s deftly rendered paintings engage us in narratives of a community,” said Williams. “Her manipulation of vantage point affords the viewer a voyeuristic glimpse at the private, familial dramas taking place throughout the neighborhood.”
Although Bennett has worked from miniatures for many years, the paintings in “Nuclear Family” represent a shift in her focus. “I have painted scenes of suburban home life in the past, but they were more related to themes of isolation and voyeurism,” she said. “Now that I am entrenched in suburban family life myself, my perspective has shifted. ‘Nuclear Family’ is more concerned with the vulnerabilities and anxieties of parenthood and marriage.”
The gallery in which “Nuclear Family” is hung for this exhibit is also diminutive. “The work is tiny and intimate and perfectly suited to BMAC’s East Gallery,” Bennett said, “which is itself scaled more closely to a home’s living room than the typical gallery space. The paintings are most meaningful when shown together, so I appreciate BMAC’s commitment to the work and the opportunity to show in such a special community.”
Bennett’s work has been exhibited at The Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Museum of Arts & Design. In 2011, she was commissioned by The New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Arts for Transit program to create a permanent mosaic installation at the 86th Street R Subway Station in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. Bennett’s paintings have appeared on the covers of several novels, including, most recently, Celeste Ng’s “Little Fires Everywhere.”
Founded in 1972, the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center presents rotating exhibits of contemporary art, complemented by lectures, artist talks, film screenings, and other public programs. The Museum's galleries and gift shop are open every day except Tuesday, 11-5. Regular admission is $8 for adults, $6 for seniors, and $4 for students. Members and children 18 and under are admitted free of charge. Located in historic Union Station in downtown Brattleboro, at the intersection of Main Street and Routes 119 and 142, the Museum is wheelchair accessible. For more information, call 802-257-0124 or visit www.brattleboromuseum.org.