A caravan of miniature automobiles sets the scene: A white van, a box truck, and a cop car hang in a queue on the right side of the gallery. The flip-phone-size map labeled MD/NY and road signs for I-70 and Route 40 only slightly diminish the feeling of lostness. Strangely reminiscent of the all-too-familiar Baltimore-NYC trajectory, Nicholas Buffon's show "Hit the Road," at Freddy Gallery through Oct. 4, glorifies the paraphernalia of the American Road Trip while bypassing its substances—the cityscapes and landscapes through which one passes.
Products of foamcoare, paper, and glue, these miniatures are decidedly detailed, childishly silly at times, and possessed of a handmade preciousness that makes you kind of squeal with pleasure. It’s tempting to call them toys or little guys, but the details betray a different storyline: The cop car trails a small red car bedecked with pot leaf and Ichthys bumper stickers.
On the left, the gallery hung a swarm of Buffon’s delicate street paraphernalia: miniature interstate signs, a fast-food sign, a road map, a mix CD, a travel journal, a miniscule plastic water bottle that is a half-inch tall. Signs read, “DIP,” “BUMP,” “ADOPT A HIGHWAY NEXT 2 MILES,” “CLICK-IT OR TICKET.” Everything is small, but nothing is fragile. With what are, presumably, supremely dexterous fingers, Buffon has constructed sturdy and obviously well-crafted replicate relics of the road.
While the distinctly handmade quality and familiar subject matter of "Hit The Road" should create a strange intimacy, Buffon's work feels immensely impersonal. Freddy's arrangement of the miniatures does not necessarily allude to a particular road-trip narrative; instead, Buffon evokes a collective human experience: driving, transporting, getting from point A to point B.
Most precious was Buffon's miniature, 'Freddy'—a recreation of the gallery itself, down to the dirty-white brick façade, the pay-to-park machine and tree out front with delicate cardstock leaves. Like the effect of an infinity mirror, of something out of Velasquez's 'Las Meninas,' viewers see a miniature of the miniature through the mirrors of 'Freddy,' and a miniature of that miniature, so on.
In the Seton Hill space that was previously sophiajacob, Freddy first opened its doors—and barred the windows—this past June for an inaugural exhibition featuring Tisch Abelow and Peter Harkawik. Reportedly named for Freddy Kreuger, murderer antagonist from "A Nightmare on Elm Street," the gallery presents itself as an anonymously run antidote to an art world that places as much value on the reputation of the gallerist as the work itself.
In more than a few ways, every show at Freddy is part of a project; a grander scheme that itself invites speculation. In a recent interview with ARTnews, "Freddy" told Andrew Russeth, "We are interested in work that blurs the lines between fact and fiction," just as the gallery itself is named after a fictional character. At exhibitions, viewers are challenged to consider how this work fits into Freddy's overarching narrative.
Freddy's second show, in July, featured erotic drawings by an unknown artist William Crawford, whose graphite drawings were allegedly created in prison and found in a condemned home. In a series of pieces in Bmore Art, Cara Ober questioned the ethics—and the reality—of such a show, calling into question whether or not Crawford even existed.
There is a certain condescending tone to Freddy's larger project. Based in New York, the gallery's management makes a few statements in that same ARTnews interview that treat Freddy as some kind of benevolent gift to the otherwise-impoverished Baltimore art community, "presenting exhibitions that wouldn't happen in Baltimore otherwise—exhibitions that are critical minded." In a response on his personal blog, MICA grad Colin Alexander confronts Josh Abelow, one of Freddy's "anonymous" founders (whose work previously appeared in a show with Tisch Abelow's called "Brother/Sister"), arguing that by pseudonymously setting the gallery apart and stressing the way that every exhibition is accessible to a real NYC-LA audience on their website, Freddy has failed to engage with the art community here in Baltimore. Alexander ultimately accuses Freddy of constructing a fiction to disguise the allure of Baltimore's cheap rent. So, if the purpose of anonymity was to keep the focus on the work, Freddy has, in a sense, backfired.
Still by some measure, we can credit Freddy with triggering questions about the role of a gallery in the digital age and the ways we expect large art metropolises to regard smaller, but legitimate, art communities around the world.
In light of that, and Freddy's larger project, Buffon's work suggests something bigger than just toy cars chasing each other around a gallery, but also the very physical movement of art commerce between Baltimore and New York City.
And, while we are hungry for ambitious galleries that can connect Baltimore artists with the rich people in New York who actually buy art, the Freddy discourse has initiated an awareness that more is not always better. Baltimore needs galleries that want to engage with Baltimore, not just flirt with us.