Tiny Treasures at the MFA
Find wonder in the miniature sculptures and paintings on display in this unique exhibit
By: Hannah Eaton
The Tiny Treasures exhibit at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts is a study of the art of miniatures. This exhibit is both whimsical and serious, shedding light on the detail and care that go into crafting tiny artwork.
The exhibit opened on July 1 and was curated by MFA Assistant Curator Courtney Harris, who told WBUR her inspiration for the work sparked after coming across the Art of Europe archives. In recent years, Harris has championed a Dutch Doll’s House on display in the European section of the MFA, and Tiny Treasures can only be seen as an extension of this love for tiny craftsmanship.
The large gallery space is divided into six sections, called “episodes,” marked by different pastel walls and floor colors. A baby yellow wall greets you as you enter, displaying a miniature Picasso painting and a 19th-century broach side-by-side.
The episodes can be described as eclectic, though there is a running theme throughout each. The “home” episode features a beautiful dollhouse-like dining room tableau reminiscent of the magic of childhood play. However, the most arresting image in this section is the canvas multi-media project Untitled with Falling Chairs by Argentinian artist Liliana Porter. Though the canvas is large, the objects fixed to it are tiny, in varying shapes and sizes.
Groups remain quiet as they walk through the Tiny Treasures exhibit, though every now and then, a voice calls out for others to come look at a new favorite sculpture. A bicycle brooch with diamond wheels and a remarkably detailed Greyhound bus is a common fan favorite.
The largest and newest piece in the collection is Shelter in Place Gallery by Eben Haines. Though most miniatures in this collection come from decades and centuries past, this model house was created during the COVID-19 pandemic. The house is empty, except for a table, chair, and laptop, symbolizing the isolation of living alone during the height of lockdown.
Rather than just being a place to gawk at tiny items, this exhibit prompts visitors to consider the artists’ intentions behind the pieces and the care that went into making them. Shūōsai Hidemasa’s clam shell with the Vindication of Ono No Komachi shows incredibly impressive carving work, down to the engravings on the cooking pot. This piece and those surrounding it provide the viewer with a new appreciation for the tedium and effort of creation, even at the most basic level.
Tiny Treasures closes on February 11, 2024, so make sure to buy a ticket for the MFA here. And remember, BU students get in for free!