Unnatural History: The Odd and Remarkable Dioramas of Lori Nix Opens in the Art of Science Gallery

By Annabelle Buck

If you’ve ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes in museum dioramas, look no further than Unnatural History: The Odd and Remarkable Dioramas of Lori Nix, April 19-Aug. 3 in our Art of Science Gallery.

Nix’s painstakingly crafted miniature dioramas, photographed in black and white, depict life at a typical natural history museum—with a humorous twist.

“We tend to think of anything we see in an institution as being truthful. I wanted to use that assumption and portray scenes that were almost true,” Nix said.

Nix’s images feature the rigid exhibit subjects emerging from their displays. Sharks swim through the halls; dodo birds cause havoc in the library; a one-legged T. rex gets assembled. The specimens are released from their glass cases, recaptured within the context of a diorama, and documented again in a photograph.

And though the images convey action, they retain the special kind of quietness only found inside a museum. In this way, the Academy is a perfect venue to exhibit Nix’s work.

“I laughed when I saw her photos, because I saw in them the Academy itself,” said Sontchi.

The content of her images relates to the surroundings like a dream within a dream and puts the captured subjects on display once again. Nix is creating one diorama especially to exhibit at the Academy.

When she has time to wander, Nix, who lives in New York City, enjoys going to the American Museum of Natural History. She prefers the older exhibits, and she stops to appreciate their craftsmanship.

It is the same kind of craftsmanship, imagination and scientific accuracy that went into making the dioramas at the Academy of Natural Sciences in the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s. Recently, two new nature soundscapes have been added in North American Hall to enhance the immersive experience.

Nix made the tabletop-sized dioramas in Unnatural History in the living room of her Brooklyn apartment, using wood, foam, plastic, paper, and the occasional store-bought plastic animal. Her desire is to create the worlds that she photographs, rather than going out and finding existing ones.

Unnatural History is free with regular museum admission.

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