People normally attribute meaningful, striking pieces artwork with famous art galleries, museums, and exhibitions. However, locations as accessible as public libraries are also repositories of interesting artistic content worth seeing for countless number of times, such as books, statues, and beautiful architectural designs. The Openbare Bibliotheek Amsterdam (OBA), Amsterdam’s central public library, is home to many fascinating works of art, including one called “The Mouse Mansion,” which captures hundreds of thousands of yearly visitors. Although some might consider the mansion to be merely an extravagant dollhouse located in the middle of the children’s section for novelty purposes, it captures various artistic elements that are of much more significant in value. “The Mouse Mansion” exemplifies the miniaturization of human life, the practice of anthropomorphism, and presents art as something that anyone of any age can readily access and appreciate.
Karina Schaapman built “The Mouse Mansion” in 2008 for the purposes of creating a set for The Mouse Mansion children’s book series. The four-sided house is over ten feet tall and is built entirely out of cardboard boxes, scraps, and recycled materials. In its entirety, there are over 100 rooms, staircases, shops, factories, alleys, and outdoor spots featured in the artwork. Viewers seamlessly spend countless minutes and even hours appreciating the surreal and whimsical nature of the structurally sophisticated house teeming with hundreds of tiny, busy mice.
What’s fascinating about this piece is Schaapman’s virtuoso in her miniaturization ability, projecting the power that comes with scaling down life size representations of physical attributes, events, and settings. People find miniature worlds so captivating because they act as a reflection of our own world, shrunk down so we can notice the details we might otherwise miss. We search for the details in the miniature world, helping us to find them in the real life. From a distance, “The Mouse Mansion” can be described as a gigantic series of rectangular boxes stacked on top of each other, producing a sight that reminds people of disorderly, slum-like neighborhoods. Viewers easily come to the conclusion that a busy scene is being depicted but can’t really make out what exactly is taking place in this highly entropic world. Furthermore, viewers see drab colors of different shades present and scattered throughout the entire mansion complex with no apparent sense of pattern, rhythm, or overall motive. However, scrutinizing the mansion from up close overwhelmingly reveals a whole different world, as the intricate details, precision, and realism of various décor now become alive. Observing the minutiae, we fully appreciate the house. For instance, different shades of brown distinguish different parts of the building such as wall and frame, and the various colors of clothing fabric shed light onto the personalities of hundreds of mice that now become alive. With each individual room in the building featuring different mice telling their own stories, “The Mouse Mansion” serves as an exemplar of miniature art, influencing not only how people perceive physical scale and appreciate intricate details, but also how they see the world.
|The religious mouse|
“The Mouse Mansion” also actively works to anthropomorphize fictional mice characters, creating realistic senses of place and being that closely resembles that of human life. One of the most insightful rooms is that of a religious mouse, who placed a Hanukkah calendar and Menorah on top of his bookshelf and cabinet, respectfully. Viewers can somewhat make out the individual faces of religious figures featured in the photograph on the mouse’s wall as well as the types of dishes that are present on his table. This seemed like an intentional placement in the artwork for showing the Amsterdam aesthetic of tolerance and is perhaps didactic for children, teaching them to be accepting of different religions. In another section of the mansion, spectators can see a busy corner market, where a mouse store clerk sells over 50 different types of pastry, snacks, and desserts to two mouse customers. A third intriguing room consists of a mouse working diligently, cutting logs in a wood shop and slowing transforming them into Dutch clogs. At its core, these observations highlight the power of using art to attribute human characteristics and qualities onto non-human beings and objects. Ultimately, “The Mouse Mansion” can be perceived as a reflection of Amsterdammers and humans at large as compassionate, intelligent, and emotional beings; because of this, people have little trouble projecting their emotions and personal lives onto animals, creating new observations and expressions.
|From left to right: Corner street store; Dutch clog wood shop|
Additionally, the artwork presents art as being widely accessed, appreciated, and interpreted by people of all ages. The combination of young children, old couples, tourists, and even Stanford University students that travel to the OBA to examine all four sides of the mansion speaks to the artwork’s limitless nature. With such diversity of materials and forms utilized, there are new details of the artwork to be discovered every time people take another look. Many individuals are fascinated and drawn to works of art that make them stop and take the time to behold their existence. This particular piece is special because of its use of “found objects” to reconstruct something new that is noteworthy, eye-catching, and whimsical. The crux of the piece is the sheer complexity of the mansion, combined with its child-like novelty, which enables a diversity of visitors to enjoy spending time engaging and interacting with its numerous components, underscoring the artwork’s inclusive nature.
|"The Mouse Mansion" placed in a larger context|
Overall, “The Mouse Mansion” is one of a kind, permanently exhibited in the main branch of Amsterdam’s public library system. Its combination of intricate details, multifaceted stories, and general liveliness collectively point at the artistic elements of miniaturization, anthropomorphism, and universality. As a whole, Karina Schaapman’s work greatly contributes not only to the artistic landscape of Amsterdam’s largest public library, but also to the great diversity of art mediums that are present in the Netherlands.