Horror meets humor in Abigail Goldman’s crime scene dioramas

“Bozo’s Back,” part of Goldman’s Trifecta exhibit.

Despite idyllic yearnings, nothing is ever as it seems. Suburbs hold secrets. Darkness unfolds in quaint towns. Families aren’t always as they appear, and the unthinkable taints the world. And so we arrive at Little Lives by artist Abigail Goldman in Trifecta Gallery’s Attachment Room.

The Details

Little Lives
Through July 27; Monday-Friday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.; free
Trifecta Gallery’s Attachment Room, 366-7001
Opening reception July 5, 6-8 p.m.

The dioramas, small-scale chunks of the bucolic—perverted and extreme—invite the voyeur into a gruesome snapshot of a larger crime scene narrative. Wrapped in the adorable, they blindside the viewer while giving only part of the story: A man wearing a trench coat and bow tie and carrying a suitcase passes a blood-drenched body in the grass. A woman mows over a body near a picket fence lined with little yellow flowers. A young couple lunches on a bench while a nearby tree conceals a bloody corpse. A sense of indifference exudes from many of the scenes, making them surprisingly humorous—dark comedies, delicately arranged under small plexi display cases.

This is the first exhibit for Goldman (a former Weekly writer) whose lifelong interest in crime and art have crossed paths before, including on a Death Row inmates quilt she made as a student at Sarah Lawrence College in New York, combining the wholesome symbol of home, family and warmth with the incarcerated fringe of society behind bars. After college she pursued a career in journalism, starting out in the Bronx, where she occasionally covered crime, then eventually wound up as a crime reporter for the Las Vegas Sun.

Art, she says, has always been a side project, whether it’s needlework—embroidered scenes, phrases or characters—or the more recent dioramas. She constructs the latter using people, trees, grass and buildings from model train sets, cutting and painting red the victims that come dressed in anything from a nightclub outfits to overalls. In the larger works, she distresses buildings (and trailers) to give them an aged appearance.

Some dioramas come without the blood—a woman flashing her breasts, naked women frolicking on a hillside or arms emerging from a fresh cemetery grave. But always, her vignettes are more David Lynch or Coen Brothers than Thomas Kinkade: at once alarming and humorous. Perverting the quaint is nothing novel, she says, nor is the appetite for crime and mystery (see: CSI and Criminal Minds, for example).

Goldman’s first series of dioramas sold out immediately, and collectors are already clamoring for more. “There’s a fine line between dark and funny, between grizzly and humorous,” she says, responding to their popularity. Little Lives perfectly straddles it.

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