At first glance, one of the miniature models now on display at the Center for Brooklyn History resemble any Victorian brownstones you might pass on a leisurely walk through the borough. But upon closer inspection, it becomes clear that artist Aaron Kinard is not here to recreate an idealized version of the borough at tiny scale. Inside one of the houses, for example, is a gruesome lynching scene.
That shock-inducing dichotomy is exactly what artist Kinard is going for.
“My art reflects the duality of Brooklyn,” he says. “Brooklyn is rough and can be brutal but it’s truthful. It shows you what life is really about but the humanity of the people that call it home is authentic and full of light.”
Six of Kinard’s dioramas are currently on display at the Center for Brooklyn History as part of a new pop-up exhibit that explores the relationship between locals and the borough through the use of miniature models of buildings and objects that all but define the area.
The free “Miniature Pop-Up Exhibit,” on display through December 2, also features the work of popular Brooklyn-based artists Danny Cortes and Jack Giambanco.
As proven by the fandom they all enjoy — and the Center for Brooklyn History’s decision to mount an entire show around their pieces — there is something almost magical about being able to touch, feel and look at a miniature version of familiar sites.
“When you have something physical in your hands, like a 3D object that you can actually walk around and notice lights and shadows hitting it, it’s a different amazing feeling,” says Giambanco.
All three artists focus on a different aspect of the Brooklyn experience in their work: Kinard’s miniature street blocks are infused with Easter eggs that surprise (and shock), Giambanco recreates recognizable local businesses, and Cortes produces dioramas of quintessential urban objects like mailboxes and street lamps. Together, their offerings present a vision of what Brooklyn is, what the borough was and what it could be.
Photo by Aaron Kinard
Kinard — whose lynching house is titled “ICB” for “I can’t breathe,” the refrain uttered by George Floyd that has now become an emblem of the Black Lives Matter movement — also presents a piece that explores his feelings regarding former President Donald Trump’s election.
“I realized when he got elected that I lived in a bubble because I couldn’t believe people voted for him, thought like him and stood for what he stood for,” he remembers. “So in the model, you’ll notice a Brooklyn subway station with people all around it alongside a huge poster that says ‘Make America great again’ and, behind it, the homeless — people who live on the fringes of humanity.”
Photo by Aaron Kinard
For 46-year-old Giambanco, a Brooklyn native, the dioramas are a way to memorialize and celebrate the businesses that make up the character and culture of Brooklyn.
“I grew up in a pizzeria that my dad owned so I know it’s not easy to operate a small business,” he says, explaining that, as his graphic design jobs dwindled during the pandemic, he started studying the art of dioramas while also trying to find a way to help area businesses in need. At first, he’d surprise store owners with the models but, as word got around, potential customers started inquiring about purchase options.
“People seem to really love these miniatures,” he says. “It brings them back to a time and a place. When you see the dioramas, you feel like you’re there and it’s really heartwarming to see the reactions of people.”
Among his works on display at the exhibit is a tiny, 3D version of the area comedy club Pips, which closed in the mid-2000s (fun fact: legendary comedian Andrew Dice Clay used to perform there and a friend of his purchased a model to gift Clay, who then posted the item on Instagram); a diorama of retro fast-food joint Roll N Roaster; and a mini Peter Luger storefront.
Photo by Jack Giambanco
Of course, at the heart of it all is a passion and devotion to the borough that the artists call home.
“The diversity in Brooklyn is like nowhere else in the world,” says Kinard. “I can walk a single block and be in the Jewish community, Spanish community and see them thriving together.”
Giamanco echoes those sentiments.
“Brooklyn is alive,” he says. “it is constantly moving and changing and you have to grow with it and capture it while it’s here. Because it can be gone in a minute.”
Photo by Danny Cortes
“Miniature Pop-Up Exhibit” is on display now through December 2. The Center for Brooklyn History. 128 Pierrepont Street. Admission is free.