A museum show of work by Hartford's Walter Wick reveals the methods behind his intricate creations
Stephen Vincent Kobasa
November 13, 2008
Walter Wick: Games, Gizmos and Toys in the Attic
Through Jan. 26, 2009, Lyman Allyn Art Museum, 625 Williams St., New London, 443-2545, lymanallyn.org.
Children's books are the most consistent sources of adult humiliation (and this goes well beyond George W. Bush and The Pet Goat). Puzzle books are a particular test of mature arrogance and those fashioned by Walter Wick are especially unnerving. All the secrets in the images Wick has created for the I Spy (picture riddles) and the Can You See What I See (picture puzzles) series of books are hidden in the obvious. The first person pronoun in the titles of his books hint at the self-created worlds that are on display here — he determines the answers before he imagines the questions.
Wick heaps up his miniatures to obscure one or two fragments of the whole. It's as if he has taken a lesson from the G.K. Chesterton story in which the ideal place to hide a murdered body is a battlefield covered with corpses. Multiplicity renders the desired objects invisible, at least briefly, and fashions meaningless problems, a fact to which children are largely indifferent.
What does it mean to make museum objects of these works? Wick is a fabulist in confinement — there is nothing outside the frame of each image. His installations, manufactured in a Hartford workshop and staffed with model builders and costumers — are dollhouse Potemkin villages. But why reveal the cardboard infrastructure of these illusions? Ignorance of the actual materials is at least one part of the mystery.
Of course, on the grand scale of this art-deco city, an obsessive detail of a barely legible bottle-label on a tiny shelf can be equally treated as toys for adults. But here the fantasies are more melancholy. In Wick's fabricated attic rooms and scattered antique playthings there is something very close to the implanted memories of Philip K. Dick's replicants (his novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sleep? became the Ridley Scott film Blade Runner). Perhaps that accounts for the threatening potential of the frazzled robot in the piece entitled "Assembly Required."
This artificial nostalgia — disconnected from anything but an imagined experience — is a reminder that lying can be memory's only consolation. Some of Wick's constructions suggest the memory palaces described by the 16th-century Jesuit missionary to China, Matteo Ricci, where the past was arranged in a geometry of rooms, waiting to solve the puzzles of recall.
Anything might turn up in one of Wick's puzzles. No wonder that in one of his recent titles he substituted the word "scary" for "dark."