Meet the Artist: David Beck and His MVSEVM

  • David Beck's Mvsevm was commissioned by SAAM in 2006 to commemorate the reopening of the museum after its renovation.

    DAVID BECK: I have this thing that I do. It's like a notion of public and private spaces. Like this building, it has an outside presence and when all the doors are closed, you have one experience, but then when you start opening, there's a whole interior thing. I like the process of discovering it. There's like a whole other world happening on the inside.

    A lot of people think that I make miniatures. I don't really see them as miniatures. I see them more as like an intimate scale, a way of like connecting with someone on a more immediate and more focused way. With the really small pieces, I think it goes right into your senses faster. You become part of it, you get lost in it.

    I go to the library a lot. I like the smell of books. Sometimes I take my sketchpad, and I do a lot of drawings. Then for this piece, I've made several different models. In terms of carving something, if it's really complicated, I'll sometimes make a model, sometimes a paper cutout, or a tracing, or something like that. That way I can block it out quicker and see if it works. I would say, most, all the time, I have some sort of sketch.

    When I started this piece, I was thinking about the histories of museums. They started when the Europeans were leaving Europe and discovering the New World, so they would bring back oddities like seashells that they'd never seen before. Guys would collect them, and then they built cabinets to hold them in. Later those cabinets became whole rooms, and then those rooms of objects eventually made their ways into museums.

    The drawers are more of a cabinet feature because I wanted parts of it to be like a cabinet, the cabinet of wonders. What they contain are animal-type things that the Wilkes Expedition would have brought back.

    I thought that it would be important to have some portraits, portraits of artists. I experimented with different papers and things like that at first, and I wasn't getting the fine detail that I wanted. Then I went back, and I actually got some parchment, some sheepskin parchment. I read up on that, how you get the grease off and mount it a certain way so it doesn't warp.

    Then I had to figure out a way how to learn how to paint portraits, so I went to the library and got a book on how to paint portraits. I have Gorky, who I liked when I was very young. Stuart Davis, Romaine Brooks, who is fantastic. Elie Nadelman, who is one of my favorites.

    I wanted to incorporate a lot of history of your building within my piece. Your museum used to be the Patent Office Building, the POB. It used to be that when you had an idea for an invention, you were required to make a working model. All of those were on display at one time. But I didn't really want to replicate actual patent models like a sewing machine. I made a sewing machine, but I took it from a Walter Murch painting. There's a gumball machine by Thiebaud. The beer can is by Jasper Johns. The light bulb, not Edison, but Jasper Johns’ lightbulb, packaging, Campbell soup cans, things like that, and some really terrific inventions like the electric chair that came from Andy Warhol. The sole of a shoe from Philip Guston, which I like a lot.

    The patent models seem to be a very important part of the history of the building. This piece, it has so many different aspects to it, and I do so many different types of things. I don't like to repeat myself, and I like to experiment a lot with different techniques and different things. I want to do everything, basically. I'd like to learn how to do everything. I don't know, that's, what I guess inspires me. It's kind of fun.
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