Saturday, May 17, 2008

Richard McMahan's MiniMuseum, at the College of Charleston's Addlestone Library

I'd like to note that I disagree categorically with the comments made by the anonymous commentators (actually a single person who has a personal problem with Richard McMahan) in this post. I've disabled future comments on this post as a way of keeping "Anonymous" from posting more drivel. Please, if you bother reading Anonymous's comments, keep in mind the basically unhinged nature of their personality, and don't let them influence your opinion of a fantastic artist.

***Images from the full collection***

Libraries don’t usually have art. When they do have art, it’s generally the sort of installation dreamed up by head librarians with too little free time, or student art groups with WAY too much free time.

So I was surprised at the amount of thought and effort which had gone into the College of Charleston library’s most recent exhibit, Richard McMahan’s MINImuseum. The exhibit showcases about 4000 painted and sculpted pieces, and was designed and set up in just under a month.

The college is justifiably proud of their display, which was planned by students from the architectural school, and fabricated using some apparently cutting edge* automated laser systems.

From the exhibit’s brochure:

“For the past eighteen years, Richard McMahan has been creating his own personal museum collection featuring miniature replicas of the world’s greatest works of art. This Florida savant has an exceptional talent for producing tiny images representing famous art in museum collections such as the Hermitage, the Prado, the Louvre, the Metropolitan, and the Museum of Modern Art, among others. Though he has never been to any of these museums in person, this self-taught artist has studied these works through books in his local library in Jacksonville.

McMahan began his collection by working from photographs he found in over one hundred years of National Geographic Magazines. Included in this worldwide tour are cave paintings, a rendition of an Egyptian tomb (complete in all of its parts), art nouveau furniture, sculpture, graphic arts, drawings, paintings, and a wry selection of contemporary art.”

As with any collection of miniatures, I’m reminded of the “Ripley’s Believe It Or Not” museums (coincidentally, the franchise is also based in Florida). The exhibit uses a few visual techniques popularized by that sort of museum, placing several pieces in recesses which force the spectator to move closer to that portion of the exhibit for a good look.

In the Egyptian art section, we contorted ourselves to peer through pvc pipes at McMahan’s recreations of tomb architecture and murals. I remembered the intricate images of Egyptian pyramid traps I’d grown up with in grade school, and wondered which of the pipes housed a very cruel joke.

Magnifying glasses were included, furthering the sensation of exploration.

The exhibit is ordered by period – trying to take in each period in a single photograph, I was reminded of Kathrynn Reffi’s Color Recordings (described in detail at Local Ephemera), an attempt to record and catalog the predominate colors throughout a 7 day span of the artist’s life.


The history of art, under a single rotunda. So much cheaper and faster than visiting all those museums.

McMahan's sculpture work (the "twigs" in the second image are carved pieces of wood) is wonderfully exact.

Of course, the whole exhibit leaves me pondering the question of art duplication. These are a few questions I would have liked to ask McMahan at his artist talk this Saturday:

What tools did you use for your painting?
Which pieces took you the longest?
Which periods?
When you recreate a work, how do you know when it's finished? Are you trying to copy the images, or the spirit?



troylloyd said...

Nifty pix,McMahan is pretty interesting, I'm fascinated how some folks have an intrinsic drive that motivates them to do certain things, esp. when it's a singular obsessive focus.

I've been in some libraries that have had outstanding exhibitions set up, but it's pretty rare as you said - the safety of universalism is usually top priority...

...strangely,back in '98 I was in Seattle, at Seatac airport they hadda fffucking incredible CoBrA exhib wall-mounted up in glass cases - and it was primarily alltha zine stuff they did along w/ some original pen 'n ink works on paper!!!! I was shittin' twinkies! It was a eyesome surprise.

& lastly, I like that Lichtenstein copy copy you posted last extra really shows Lichtenstein's humor and ability to laugh at himself, it's one of the few comic panels he actually changed the words in.

So, this v. interesting link is wortha looksee,it's kind of stunning to see the original source material he was pulling from -


Ben Grad said...

I had no idea the words on that Lichtenstein copy were changed - that makes it even better!

troylloyd said...

Pardon my cluttery keypunching, what I meant was that particular panel from a comicbook was one of the few where the words were changed by Lichtenstein.

McMahan was faithful to the Lichtenstein painting, which is good cause that's Lichtenstein's
moist* 'poignant' pictures.

The original comicbook panel frame sd "What? Why did you ask that? What do you know about the stones of Babylon?Speak up!" - Licht. was a wiseass enough to come up w/ a really funny paranoid subtext.

Usually,Licht. took wholesale image + words,unless the text was dense & then he'd condense it shorter.

David Barsalou started seriously researching the source material from the original comics that Licht. used...he started in 1997 and now most of his findings are on that 'Deconstructing Roy Lichtenstein' site... must've took alot of work & effort, not to mention how Silver Age comics pricing has gone thru the roof!

He's supposed to be releasing a book on the same topic...Licht. probably picked those funnybooks up at the cornerstore for like 12¢
& 15¢ each...I'm curious if they never found L.'s big pile o comics in his estate? Did he throw them all away? Give them away? He must've had tons of them...

: )

Ginrikki said...

online offering for those not in CHS
online exhibit

Ben Grad said...

ginrikki - that's awesome, can't believe I missed it. I'll stick a link in my post.

Jeremy said...

This was excellent. I looked at pretty much every image on C. of Charleston's website. I can't link to it here, but something that really "breaks" my mind: take a look at Richard's version of Donatello's Magdelene. Then look at the original. Oh. My. God.

He's especially good at recreating flattened or more "naive" imagery. (Bosch, Matisse, etc. I believe there's an homage to Giotto in there... with what looks like real gold leaf. It's not in the web gallery, but it's in the "mini doc" video.) His frame choices are also excellent.

I love medieval art... Some nerdy trivia: the image on the top-left corner of the 300-1600 section... Francis Bacon said it was one of his favorite images of Christ - because the body reminded him of a worm or a snake writhing and squirming on the cross.

Yeah... it's not too hard to get into that "demented" head space after looking at this stuff for a little while...

Ben Grad said...

Now I'm wondering if he copied the frames as well, or just made them up.

Man, I hope that exhibit comes to Atlanta some time.

Andrew said...

Hi, I am one of the architecture students who designed and constructed on the exhibit, I would like to state a few corrections of what was written about it here. The exhibit was designed by the students of the the Clemson Architecture Center in Charleston(CAC.C), a branch of Clemson University's fluid campus program, led by professors Robert Miller and David Pastre. We were given this project by the Halsey. It was a truly amazing project to work on! Contrary to what the article says, the exhibit actually took an entire semester to design. We began our design process back in January. The construction of the exhibit itself began on May 3 around 8:00am and was completed on May 16 nearly two hours before the opening at 5:00pm. It contains closer to 1100 works by McMahan; I don't know where 4000 came from. Also, the exhibit was not fabricated with lasers, but with the use of a computer controlled router that was a service donated to us by Low Country Case and Millworks. We used a "laser-cutter" to build our study models at the school, which had an incredible influence on our overall design. Check the official website

for videos of both the real construction and model construction and an documentary on the Richard McMahan himself. And to answer an earlier question, it was my understanding that throughout working on the project that Richard used the actual frames that each original work can be found in. He recreated each one with stunning detail. I haven't double checked this claim, but it's what I heard.

Ben Grad said...

Hey Andrew - thanks for the clarification! I was writing this post based on what I remembered of the exhibit text as well as the copy from that McMahan site I linked to; I apologize for any mistakes I made.

I got an email from McMahan a while back, and he said that he reproduced a few of the frames, but often the source pictures he used for his work only showed the original painting, not the frame it was in. For those pieces, McMahan says he just made up the frame.

Thanks for putting together an awesome exhibit!

Richard W.McMahan said...

Hi there to everyone in cyber~space who have questions about my show I just want to give a clarification on a comment made on this blog about one of the paintings in my show,the question was asked about the twigs in one of the works at the mini museum show,Well those are not carved,they are tree roots that I found in my back yard,I had to find some that were small enough for the project,I usually make everything from scratch because I make everything from paper & cardboard as well as other things before they go into the trash,the artist who did the work in question used real twigs & other found objects for his work so that's what they are,I hope you will enjoy the show even more after knowing this bit of information because I get a lot of questions about what everything is made from.

Anonymous said...

When I came to your show I didn't know what to expect nor did I know anything about you or your art work, Or should I say, Someone else's art work. From what I can tell, Who ever promoted your crap JUST had to be smoking a crack pipe! That show was the BIGGEST pile of dog crap I've ever seen! None of your copy cat minis are worth the effort or time my friends and I spent eyeballing your junk. What was this place thinking? Can't they get a real artist to make an exact copy in its original size? Get a life Richard Mcman

Anonymous said...

It was the worst display of artwork I've ever seen! Who ever this Rick McMahan is, He needs to stop wasting his time trying to get peoples attention with this BS and go home!! I can't believe my friends dragged me down to see this nonsense ! I have a five year old who uses a red and green crayola on my walls can do art better than you!

Anonymous said...

I never got a chance until now after seeing this display a few months ago to give a proper comment, This is till I heard about this blog! Some of this mini artwork was kinda cool and a bit interesting on the level of a amateur. But not really worth the effort or time for such a ridiculous waste of resources which could have been used for someone else to show some real art! Better luck next time McMahan.

Ben Grad said...


None of you know what you're talking about.

Which is fine - you don't have to appreciate art to be a good human being. However, a person should have enough decency to keep uneducated (and unsupported) opinions to themselves.

When you use the oldest, most tired complaints in the book ("my child could do better than this," or "this isn't art, it's just a copy of something else"), you make yourselves, your parents, your teachers, your city, and your state all look tremendously stupid. Please, save these people any further embarrassment by keeping your verbal diarrhea to yourselves.

Anonymous said...

Mr.Ben Grad, Your the one who doesn't know what your talking about! My city can look retarded without my help. As I understand it This entire body work was the pit of a single minded, Little, Uneducated man with only one skill and we could tell just by staring at him that he wasn't the brightest guy on the planet and I have worked with real artists over the years who can tell the differences between serious art and a con man like this Rick McMahan.

Anonymous said...

Holy bad artist batman! When my wife and I went up to see this stuff My first impression was, "Ok, It's not as bad as I thought and the work is almost of high quality." Boy! Was I ever wrong ! The detail of Richard's work is sooo god awful and silly that I thought the crew from Universal Studio's Back to the Future ride made this crap! People, There is real art to be seen at this Library, And it's not Richard McRetard ! Its in the books he has taken it from!

Anonymous said...

Ho come on! The mini-museum wasn't that bad. There were at least 15 pieces of work that really stood out. But now that you mention it, Even that doesn't make up for this waste of time and effort. Besides this concept has already been done before and failed years ago. If I want to see good mini art, I'll stick to my color Nintendo Gameboy.

Anonymous said...

First off, Let me Just say I wish I had found this site sooner so that I could let everyone else know what I thought of that Library and it's artwork display. I made sure that I told the students of the Clemson Architecture Center who built that exhibit what a great job they did on it! But what was inside the display was total non sense !!! I really don't feel like getting out my great,great,great grandfathers magnifying glass and crouching down to view some nutball's crappy work of art, If you can call it that. I wish I never stopped in!

Ben Grad said...

Anonymous - you aren't fooling anyone posting as "different" people. Seriously, this is just getting silly.

Anonymous said...

I cringe at the idea that people would call this display "art". Art educates. Art inspires. Most of all, art endures.

This display was created by someone who doesn't have the talent for an original design. All he is able to do is create miniature copies of works others have created. If he ever had an original idea in his head it would die of loneliness.

It seems to me that he'd be better off using his time & effort to develop the skills necessary to be a productive member of society.

As it is, he's probably living in his mother's house chuckling to himself about being a hacker. The kind of person who will be clinging to his momie's apron strings 'til she dies, then wind up living out of a shopping cart in the park since he doesn't know how to do anything else.

Anonymous said...

I was at this display. I actually had the chance to meet the artist.
All I could think was "Damn, what is that smell!?!". It was unbelievable. At first I thought someone had passed gas or something, then I realized it was him. It was like something crawled inside of him & died. I had to leave because the stink was turning my stomach & I didn't want to blow chunks all over the exhibit. I hope the college bought lots of air fresheners. It really took away from my enjoyment of the display.

Anonymous said...

I thought I was the only one who noticed that stink about him. Geez! I thought I had stepped in something. It's no wonder he's so meticulous about his art. Smelling like he did I can tell you that he's not going to get laid ever.

Joey Kanobroski said...

I am a friend and defendant of Richard McMahan and have come to appreciate this guy even more after seeing and hearing him ridiculed by insignificance. Richard is an artist, a gentleman and a positive being in this often negative world.

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ac said...

So sad someone is too afraid or cowardly to leave their name when they belittle someone. Especially when they are jealous of that person as is apparent with Mr. A. Forgive him as he is probably a welding, or truck driver school dropout. Keep up the good work Richard and don't let a few real losers get you down. You can be assured they have never left mommy's side.

Anonymous said...

A VERY close inside source has identified this Richard McMahan as a being both a fraud and a mentally disturbed person who is both lazy and has not earned his way through life. As we understand it,If you become friends with this person and find out about what kind of lifestyle he leads and try to explain to him that he needs to take care of his family,He will take it the wrong way and get you to trouble for it. Several witnesses have come forward and exposed this man for the loser he is. His mini art is..a..fruad. Nobody is trying to hurt this person or make fun of him."However!, Richard McMahan has made a fool out of himself by making people believe he is an artist. When he is only gifted in copying real art and trying to make money off of it. We are just trying to save you all from thinking Richard is some nice guy who's misunderstood. He is dangerous and has a habit of getting people into trouble and selling useless trash at some flea market. We urge you not to trust Richard McMahan. Good day.

Bernard H Worrick said...

It seem's to me that Mr. Anonymous is a very small minded and vindictive little man. Why don't you use your mind to do something as extraordinary as McMahan has accomplished, instead of slandering him. Your petty and callous views show the immense turmoil your private life has come to. You know what I speak of, don't you. Take control of your life, Mr. Anonymous, before you try to tackle someone elses. Now go and hide behind your little corner of Jacksonville, Florida and better yourself.
To all of the more constructive and real people, McMahan's work is simply a wonder to see. Not for the copying of other's works, but for the sheer joy and love that he puts into his craft. It's not just the miniaturizations of the actual paintings, but the work he puts into the frames and other nuanced aspects that often get unnoticed. I was absolutely floored when I saw the exhibit at the MOSH in Jacksonville. McMahon has an eye for the things that most of us cannot see.
Mr. Anonymous, you are the fraud.

Lida Gibson said...

I had the pleasure of meeting Richard McMahan when my friend Kendall Messick and I shot videotape of Richard working two years ago. We were working on a short documentary project before his exhibit at the Halsey. I found him to be very intelligent, charming, and driven. I can't wait to see where his immense talent takes him in the future.

Lida Gibson
Producer and Editor
Jackson, Mississippi

Lida Gibson said...

Here's a link to the short documentary Kendall Messick and I produced about Richard in 2007.

Lida GIbson

Lida Gibson said...

Oops. It was actually 2008.

Lida Gibson

ac said...

Mr Anonymous isn't fooling anyone. Everybody knows it is just one very unstable person. Probably some painter that has had been turned away
from Galleries where he wanted his work in the limelight. I am sure he paints as well as he corresponds.
Have you tried the Peace Corps? They may be able to help you vent in a positive way

madeleine said...

I must say, that I have talked with Richard at length, and the depth and breadth of his knowledge of the works he copies is amazing as well.

He has been described by art historians as a savant, and as such a unique individual who works so hard to overcome many personal obstacles, he is a phenom.

Here's a link to an article in our hometown paper that may shed some light on Richard as an artist and a person:

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry Mr.Bernard H Worrick perhaps you didn't hear very well. One little piece of know how does not make you a saint. I've worked my ass off for years fighting off all kinds of obstacles over the years. When I met Richard he told me he had experience in various subjects. But when I found out that he couldn't even take care of his own life and somebody tries to help him he was the one who got petty and selfish. I wasted time energy, effort and talent on this person. And he gave nothing back but alot of disturbing in sites into his life. I had set back in my own life but you sir Mr.Bernard have NO idea of what you are talking about. I tired to help Richard McMahan and all he did was screw me over. Word of advice, Richard. Don't bring you're problems to work and expect anyone to care if you don't even give a shit about fixing your own life or trashing your family.I had and never had anything vile ageist Mr. McMahan. No sir, I can guarantee you that the only fraud presented here,IS THIS ENTIRE BLOG.

Anonymous said...

Mr.AC, Trying to use a little reversed psychology are we? Trying to display a few brain cells? Are you telling us you know the inside and outside of an argument so that you can print you're idiopathic attempt to defend someone who's fraudulent attitude has embarrassed himself? I thought not. Same go's to you all.

madeleine said...

the most noticeable thing about your comments, Anon, are the number of times you use the pronoun "I."

Your personal relationship with Richard has no bearing on the merit of his work. Which is, when taken as a whole body of work an incredible accomplishment specifically because of the challenges he has overcome.

In Jacksonville Richard is well-known and respected. His work shares commonalities with folk and Pop work, and still manages to be more than the sum of its parts.

As for other nasty comments about Richard on this site: it speaks to the nastiness in your souls.

Randy said...

Hello. Please note that I have recently worked with Richard on a children's book where Richard contributed to the illustrations. I had asked several people beforehand to help me (even a cousin ) and all of them let me down, except Richard. He listened to my ideas for the drawings and didn't let me down with the publisher's deadlines. Thank You Richard. You can find our book at Keyword: The Beautiful Festival of the Valley