From Micro Machines to the flea circus to Instagram’s tilt-shift editing tool to that interactive website that lets you compare the size of everything from quarks to galaxies, everybody loves a miniature. There’s even a traveling museum that operates out of Kansas called the “World’s Largest Collection of the World’s Smallest Versions of the World’s Largest Things.”
Now we have a mini version of a San Francisco icon that’s instantly recognizable to anybody who’s familiar with the Mission: Discolandia, the record shop at 2962 24th St. that closed in 2011 and which is now Top Round Roast Beef. It’s a creation of Adelaide artist Joshua Smith, who also has a 1:20 scale model of a dumpster by the Oakland docks and a street art-covered building at 135 Cedar St., an alley in the Tenderloin between Polk and Larkin. Long fascinated by urban decay, Smith has shown his work worldwide, in his native Australia as well as in London, New York, London, Houston, and Taiwan — and now his Discolandia is coming to Palo Alto City Hall. (It should be noted that the sign’s current condition is a little better these days.)
“Through That Which Is Seen,” which opens Jan. 20 and runs through April 8, takes that elementary-school classic — the diorama — and gives it a new lease on life by trading in the Keds shoeboxes for painstakingly assembled visions of the fantastical and the mundane. Based on an ancient Egyptian art form, dioramas and other small-scale sculptures can tell stories simply by being small and lifelike. Their size renders them non-threatening even as it intensifies their power to critique.
Smith essentially stumbled on Discolandia, telling lostateminor.com that, “With the majority of my miniatures, I focus on a specific city first of all and then to different districts. I spend endless hours on Google Maps using street-view as a way of virtually driving down the road until I find a building that stands out to me. I found the Discolandia Record shop in this way and was attracted to the colours and signage of the old shopfront. … The original business was founded by a Cuban woman who came to the United States and started and ran the record shop for decades. It only closed down in the 2010s and every business which has since taken over the shopfront has been told to leave the signage as is.”
He adhered to that ethos, even making sure the D in Discolandia was slightly askew. Check out Joshua Smith’s compelling Instagram for more pics of Discolandia and plenty more.
Through That Which Is Seen, Jan. 20 – April 8, at Palo Alto City Hall, 250 Hamilton Ave. Free; cityofpaloalto.org