Small gathering: A little means a lot at Second Street Gallery

Lou Haney’s “Funion” adds whimsy to the large collection of small works in Second Street Gallery’s “Teeny Tiny Trifecta,” on view through September 28. Image courtesy of the artist Lou Haney’s “Funion” adds whimsy to the large collection of small works in Second Street Gallery’s “Teeny Tiny Trifecta,” on view through September 28. Image courtesy of the artist

Second Street Gallery begins its 45th year with “Teeny Tiny Trifecta,” a group exhibition in the Dové Gallery featuring 72 artists working in a wide range of styles, techniques, and media. Curated by Kristen Chiacchia, the gallery’s executive director and chief curator, the artwork was solicited through an open call, which garnered submissions from more than 100 artists.

“I didn’t really have a number of how many artists to show in mind ahead of time,” says Chiacchia. “There were so many fantastic submissions that I didn’t want to say no to any of these artists.”

The common denominator that links the work is its size; everything measures 10 inches or less. When coming up with this requirement, Chiacchia had several things in mind. Presenting a show of small work means one can show more, and it also allows for the price point to be kept low—a major consideration in introducing people to the idea of collecting art. So, everything in “Teeny Tiny Trifecta” is priced at an affordable $100. Small is in vogue these days, and with more people living in compact spaces, diminutive works have great appeal.

Small work also lends itself well to salon-style hanging, an approach that features large groups of work hung together on a wall. Though rarely used in gallery settings as it can overwhelm the individual work, it functions well with little pieces—gathering them together imparts a visual weight that the work doesn’t have by itself.

With salon style, one also appreciates the overall crazy-quilt effect—a pleasing visual sum made up of many parts. “I’ve always been really drawn to salon-style installation and the whole idea of a cabinet of curiosity,” says Chiacchia. “I have a lot of art [primarily Pop Surrealism] and I have a whole wall at home that is completely filled with it.”

“I was looking for a way to involve local and regional artists in the exhibition,” says Chiacchia. With 50 locals in the show—some familiar, some new to the scene—she succeeded. The balance is made up with artists from Richmond and as far away as New York City. Each artist was asked to contribute three pieces. In some cases, the three are all very similar and could almost be considered a series.

The show also represents an important resource for Chiacchia. “I am still fairly new to town and I don’t get out in the world as much as I would like,” she says. “It was great meeting everyone when they came to drop their work off. It was also nice because I’ve discovered artists I may be interested in working with in the future.”

The work ranges from edgy contemporary to more traditional still lifes and landscape, and so there’s something in the show to appeal to every taste. Allyson Mellberg Taylor’s nifty little portraits in vintage frames have a spare intensity that is arresting. The flatness and primitive quality of the drawing recalls early 19th-century watercolors of children—the restrained colors and patterns, Japanese woodblocks. But the disgruntled back-to-back twins and the scowling girl whose spots on her face mirror the egg between her hands add a strange discord that piques one’s curiosity.

With the focus on food and flowers, Lou Haney’s bold little statements include a sunny collage of daisies and two smaller tondo paintings of a flower and half a red onion. The latter, with its outside edge following the uneven circle of a cut onion, is particularly effective, a witty, trompe l’oeil work that grabs attention.

Courtney Coker’s photographs are atmospheric and evocative. It’s not entirely clear, but they seem connected in some way, like clues to a hidden story. The woman floating in the lake and the child in the forest are linked as figures in landscape, and the child in the forest is clearly the little girl of the portrait identifiable by her dress, hair, and age. They’re winsome, contemplative images that form such a potent trinity; one hopes they will be purchased as a set.

Based on Caravaggio, Michelle Gagliano’s figure studies possess a presence that belies their size. Her forceful, confident line and the use of black oil paint on canvas to render these sketches endows the two lower ones with a subtle power.

Resembling strange fungi, spores, or microscopic specimens, Jennifer Cox’s mixed media on panel works have a lushness of color and form. Her compositions occupy the space with intention and restraint.

Aaron Miller’s striking graphic sequences take inspiration from traditional comic strips. But the narratives of non sequiturs and enigmatic references push these works to a completely different place. Each piece is divided into a quartet of related images. Their black-and-white palette and classic, austere draughtsmanship offer a refreshing, ordered simplicity, and demonstrate the continued aesthetic power of the genre.

There are many practical considerations for mounting a show of small works, but let’s face it, there’s something just plain appealing about them. They often contain the visual interest and heft of much larger pieces, but it is presented in concentrated form within the confines of limited space. “Teeny Tiny Trifecta” illustrates this well with work that surprises, beguiles, and enchants.

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