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Art & Soul: The Visual Arts - Meet The Artist Behind An Ann Arbor Microgallery Of Miniature Art

Creal Microgallery

Joe Levickascreated the Creal Microgallery exhibition space located on Creal Crescent in Ann Arbor. It was designed as a publicly viewable, breadbox-sized exhibition space for small works and features contemporary art in a range of media, giving special attention to small moments, playful experiments, and unexpected discoveries.

Lisa Barry and Omari Rush talk to Levickas about his miniature art exhibit.


Lisa Barry: You're listening to 89-1 WEMU, and this is Art and Soul. This is Lisa Barry. This week, Art and Soul is about the visual arts. So I'm joined by the chair of the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs and executive director of CultureSource, Omari Rush. Good to talk to you, Omari.

Omari Rush: Yeah, likewise, Lisa. Happy summer.

Lisa Barry: We have a special guest. He's an artist, a curator, an arts professional. Joe Levickas. Thanks, Joe, for talking to us.

Joe Levickas: Thank you for having me.

Omari Rush: Joe, it's so great to hear your voice and be reunited. We go way back, and it's nice to be able to say that you go way back with a person. But, you know, Ann Arbor Art Center, the University of Michigan--you've been around. How things been going?

Joe Levickas: Things have been going well. It's an interesting pandemic. I think everyone's sort of been shifting in terms of the world that they're engaging in. Feel like it's been a while since I've seen everybody.

Lisa Barry: You are part of the growing trend of micro galleries, and you have one set up in Ann Arbor. Tell us about that.

Credit Creal Microgallery
Creal Microgallery with 'Small Windows onto a Distant World,' an exhibition of panoramic photos by Andrew Stamm

Joe Levickas: Yes. So, in June, I opened up a place called the Creal Micro Gallery, which, by place I mean a 16 inch by 10 inch by 12 inch exhibition space. It is a breadbox-sized exhibition space for small works. And it's in my front yard, so, it's a publicly accessible and publicly viewable exhibition space showing a host of exhibitions by various artists.

Omari Rush: Now, Joe, did you build the gallery yourself? How did it come to be?

Joe Levickas: As much as I love to create things, I was not confident in my ability to create the box. So I purchased the box. I ordered it, and it was shipped. And then once I got it, I painted and decorated and whatnot. And I also built the movable wall that exists in it. And so, that sort of helps in terms of how to hang exhibits and install the work.

Lisa Barry: We'll share pictures of it with this interview on our website, WEMU dot org. But how would you describe it for people who are like "A micro gallery? What exactly are you talking about?"

Joe Levickas: Yeah, I imagine something that is kind of like a tiny free library site. And it is it is matching colors to my house--teal and white--and it says Creal Micro Gallery. And there's a window on the front, and you can look in and it looks like a little miniature gallery in there. So, there's a fake wood floor and some whitewall. And we've got a variety of exhibitions that we've been installing in there. And so, it kind of looks like you're looking into a real life, full-sized gallery, but without necessarily trying to pull the eye so much that people say, "Well, what am I looking at?" It does look like a, you know, full-sized gallery that I'm looking at, because there are there are some galleries that have been able to be very, very tricky about that. So it's interesting.

Omari Rush: I mean, Joe, it looks great. So congrats on that. And it also somehow felt very Joe. You know, when I looked at the work on the inside, what are your plans for these exhibitions? Like, how often are you planning to turn it over? Are you the one exclusively making the work? Are other people involved?

Credit Creal Microgallery
Installation view of 'Small Wins and Personal Victories,' an exhibition of paintings by Joe Levickas


Joe Levickas: Sure. So I have a kind of a flexible plan to probably have about one exhibition a month. The first exhibition was my work, partly because I was just testing out to make sure that I was going to be safe in the outdoors in terms of temperature and climate control and things like that. I had a series of small paintings that were called--the exhibition was called--Small Wins and Personal Victories, and they were sort of pictures of young people with trophies and medals around their necks and appearing very happy. And some of that was really about me recognizing that I needed to find a way to create work in this time period. My artistic workspace became my job workspace. And so, even finding space to do it, I realized that making tiny paintings was actually very doable because I could do it in the same exact spot that I was working. But in terms of the exhibitions after that, we've had, the one that we have up right now, is some panoramic photos by Andrew Stamm, who's a St Louis-based photographer. It's called “Small Windows onto a Distant World,” and that features photos from his trip to Bruni Island in Tasmania. And that really is kind of about being able to travel and go to places that you're not in through these tiny little photos. And I think, right now, we're all kind of hoping to travel a little bit. And then we've got a series of other exhibitions that are coming up. I've got an L.A. based sculptor, Mike Whiting, who normally does these monumental steel sculptures, and he's going to be having some work in there. And then I also have a Michigan-based illustrator and comic artist, Marjorie Gaber, who I know from my other job at University of Michigan. So, her work is going to be up as well.

Credit Creal Microgallery
Detail view of painting from  'Small Wins and Personal Victories' by Joe Levickas

Lisa Barry: Just to clarify, all these exhibitions are tiny. You're like miniature paintings. I love tiny paintings. You said that tiny sculptures. Everything has to be small to fit in here?

Joe Levickas: Yeah, so it is 16 inches by 10 inches by 12 inches. So, it is everything kind of has to be small. I have some people say to me, "Wow, that's really, really, really miniscule." And I said, "Well, you know, when you think about it, like an eight by 10 photo also fits in there pretty well or something or other." So, it is not as miniscule as it sounds when you start thinking about it. But I really wanted to set this up as a place that would exhibit the small works without necessarily needing to be tiny and itsy bitsy and sort of look painted with one hairbrush or something like that.

Omari Rush: Joe, what's been the response? I'm just imagining sitting at your front window and watching people, you know, pass by. And what surprised you about the way that people have interacted with it?

Joe Levickas: I think it's funny. I think, you know, from when you passed it initially, you might think that it was a free library and somebody passes by and sometimes I see people pass by and then they kind of have the rubberneck moment, like, "Wait a second. What did I just see?" And you see them walk back and look at it. Also, I had people drive up who have heard about it online and are interested in seeing more about it. And so, I think that there's kind of a mix of people who are coming because they know what it is and people who are stumbling across it. And, you know, in those first days, of course, I'm sitting at my front window trying to be not obnoxious and are people. But it's been great. And it's always fun to see when somebody, you know, starts following the Instagram page, they've they've seen it and they're interested in following and learning more and things like that.

Lisa Barry: We need to be my age. I'll be the one with the magnifying glass out. But it does seem like you have an impressive array of artists who are participating in this.

Joe Levickas: Yeah, it's been really great. I think there's, you know, it's actually in some ways, it's a two-part project. It's both the sort of the in-person exhibition and also the social media account. I think a lot of the people that I have who've become interested in it are people who are associated with the flags or free little art galleries that are kind of all over the place. People who love miniature art. There's also people who are local. And so, it's kind of a couple of different groups of people that are finding to be interested in it. And some of the artists who have reached out to me are people who are just kind of interested in exploring something, working on a smaller scale, or who always work on a small scale. And, you know, it happens to be something that they're interested in.

Omari Rush:  Well, Joe, I can't wait until you curate an Ann Arbor festival of tiny galleries that people are just walking around. Maybe courting people on your block first. The Crescents will be the art spot. It sounds great.

Credit Andrew Stamm
Detail view of photo from 'Small Windows onto a Distant World,' by Andrew Stamm


Joe Levickas: Well, I appreciate that. I've had people say, "Oh, we want one in our front yard or we want it in our cul de sac." And I'm thinking, "Let me let me work on this one first, and then we'll see whether we're going to broaden the scope and add more.

Lisa Barry: Joe Levickas, we'll put pictures of the Creal Micro Gallery and links to your Instagram page on our website, WEMU dot org. Thank you so much for sharing this with us. And, Omari Rush, always good to talk to you.

Omari Rush: Likewise. Lisa.

Joe Levickas: Thank you so much. 



**Special thanks to Paul Keller for providing the Art & Soul theme music.**

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— Lisa Barry is the host of All Things Considered on WEMU. You can contact Lisa at 734.487.3363, on Twitter @LisaWEMU, or email her at lbarryma@emich.edu

Lisa Barry was a reporter, and host of All Things Considered on 89.1 WEMU.
Omari Rush has a continually expanding role of service as both an artistic administrator and community leader, in part through his work as curator of public programs at the Ann Arbor Art Center.
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