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Coming To Somerville: The Smallest Museum In The World

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The neo-classical façade of the Mµseum—or "Micro Museum"—opening in Somerville. (Courtesy photo)

The neo-classical façade of the Mµseum—or “Micro Museum”—opening in Somerville. (Courtesy photo)

SOMERVILLE, Mass. — “It’s in a 16-inch-wide alleyway. Alleyway is overstating it,” explains Judith Klausner, founding curator of the Mµseum—or “Micro Museum”—which (we like to think) will be the smallest museum in the world.

It’s just 8 inches deep and framed with a grand, traditional neo-classical façade.

“You can only walk into it in your mind. We do encourage that,” the Somerville resident says, speaking on behalf of herself and the Mµseum’s “chief engineer” (and her boyfriend) Steve Pomeroy.

The grand opening reception and ribbon cutting ceremony involving “a small ribbon and a very small pair of decorative scissors” are from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 15, at 72½ Union Square, Somerville, wedged in between the Independent and a Subway shop. (Update: Our photos from the ribbon cutting.)

A rendering of what the Mµseum—or "Micro Museum"—in Somerville will look like when it opens. (Courtesy photo)

A rendering of what the Mµseum—or “Micro Museum”—in Somerville will look like when it opens. (Courtesy photo)

The inaugural exhibition, “Invisible Cities,” running through Oct. 11, features Mara Brod’s urban photo, Grace Durnford’s colored pencil and sewed rendering of power lines, Emily Garfield’s pen, ink and watercolor drawing of a map, and Ted Ollier’s prints of the maps of Boston and New York as Victorian silhouettes. It’s accompanied by an online exhibition catalogue in downloadable pdf form.

“I wanted to really try to represent as many Somerville artists as possible in very few inches,” Klausner says.

Before we go on, let’s note that “that funny looking u [in Mµseum] is a mew symbol,” Klausner says. “And it is a symbol for micro. It’s used in math and science. It’s a visual pun. I’m a dork for puns.”

The idea for the Mµseum sprouted some years back with the recognition of a problem in the greater Boston art world. “There are so few institutions in the area that will show art by New England artists even though there area tons of amazing artists in the area,” Klausner says.

For those concerned with such things, their own problem immediately crops up: limited resources. Who has the building and the money and the staffing to present an alternative?

Klausner’s solution is to think small. Which comes rather naturally to her as an artist whose oeuvre includes sculptures staring insects as protagonists, flowers sculpted from nail clippings and baby teeth, and cameo profiles carved into the delicious, creamy filling of Oreo cookies.

“I’ve always been attracted to small,” Klausner says. “One of my favorite games as a child was to pretend I was 3 inches tall.”

Founding a small museum for even smaller art goes against the art world tide of ever more supersized art and museums built extra-extra-large to hold it. Small works mostly get ignored or poorly presented in this giants’ world. “I think we’ve really lost something there,” Klausner says.

“With a small piece of work, your attention is pretty inherently intimate because you’re getting into its space and it’s getting into your space,” she adds.

So Klausner took to walking around Somerville looking for unused gaps, nooks and crannies, tiny spaces between buildings. Most were used to store trashcans or were filled with trash.

But then she found the narrow alleyway in Union Square and negotiated permission from the owners of the neighboring buildings to use the space rent-free. Lights, which allow the Mµseum to be open 24/7, are powered by a solar panel rigged up by Pomeroy.

“We do take it seriously as a very small art institution,” Klausner says. “But at the same time, the idea is to create more instances of wonder in the urban landscape.”

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  • Melissa Glick

    love love love it! Hope to see more around town.

  • Aaron Dinkin

    “Mew symbol”? I think the word you’re looking for is “mu”.