Murder she built: Looking at artist Abigail Goldman’s crime-scene dioramas at Trifecta

Detail of Goldman’s work in So Sorry at Trifecta Gallery.

Though spontaneous laughter is the most common reaction to Abigail Goldman’s miniature crime-scene dioramas, it’s the layered reality behind them that gives them lingering depth.

While a handful of critics dove in to rip her apart for a seemingly cavalier attitude toward extreme gore and violence, they missed the works’ blatant overtone—society’s seemingly cavalier attitude toward extreme gore and violence.

Detail of Goldman's "Say Cheese."

It’s not every day that someone pushes a lawn mower over a body, or a grandfatherly type blows away a victim for sport in the countryside, or a bloody corpse lies in the bushes behind a couple on a park bench—all as portrayed by Goldman using pieces from model train sets. Or is it? The guy casually strolling by a body in the pastoral environment as if whistling a happy tune from Oklahoma! (as seen in Goldman’s exhibit Little Lives) could be a portrait of desensitized American society.

In So Sorry, opening this week at Trifecta Gallery, the Las Vegas artist has ramped it up several notches, beginning with a message of mock apology and double meaning in the title piece, “So Sorry.” The scripted, three-dimensional papier-mache letters spell out “So Sorry” using news articles and subsequent online commentary about Goldman’s work, while the phrase itself seems to play off the callousness of the perpetrators (including those in the dozens of murder scenes playing out right there on the grass-flocked letters).

Goldman's "So Sorry."

Her peculiar bucolic scenes in this exhibit have enough guns, axes, blood and over-the-top humorous mayhem that you might as well be watching a Quentin Tarantino film. It may even have viewers asking: How far is too far? Even if it means pausing the murder-centric narrative on Dateline NBC blaring in the comfort of their family-friendly living rooms to do so.

Goldman’s immaculate craftsmanship — painting and distressing tiny automobiles and buildings, arranging dirt (baked to remove parasites) and building detailed foliage — results in a smartly illustrated explorations of the culture of violence, one that taps into what she refers to as “that dynamic between what’s funny and what’s ghastly.”

So Sorry through Aug. 30; Monday-Wednesday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; Thursday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Trifecta Gallery, 366-7001.

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