Artist Brian Griffiths has constructed nine miniature buildings – ranging from an aquatic ‘adventure dome’ to a Scottish mansion – each in some way inspired by an unlikely muse: Bill Murray. The comic actor’s woebegone features also find their way onto every façade.
Griffiths is fascinated by the actor’s ability to deploy his own image; to perform in public as ‘Bill Murray’ the joker, the megastar and the unlikely lothario. When quantifying fame, it is second nature for us to describe celebrity as if it were something with physical dimensions, so Griffiths decided that Murray as an art material was ‘big enough’ to fill an art space.
Installed in the cavernous, post-industrial Baltic gallery in Gateshead, the model buildings were created on a 1:12 scale, with the largest – an LA beach house – measuring almost five metres in length.
Titled Bill Murray: a story of distance, size and sincerity, the exhibition is, among other things, a play on scale, with the model buildings dwarfed not only by the gallery space and the images of Murray, but also the objects placed within them. An inveterate collector of seemingly random paraphernalia, Griffiths has dressed his architectural structures with furnishings of various inappropriate scales, including whisky miniatures, model furniture and a full-sized lampshade.
The buildings themselves draw on Murray’s life as well as his art – some display whimsical flourishes suggestive of a Wes Anderson movie, others cater for Murray’s love of golf, or offer a louche poolside ambience befitting a movie star. Griffiths nimbly sidesteps the cliches: no leopard sharks/ Suntory Time / crossed streams here: instead hovering, like fandom, in a grey area between what we think we know about Murray’s life, and the fantasy world of his films.
In the era of Instagram one-upmanship and ‘curated’ living spaces, we have become habituated to the idea that our house and choice of objects communicates some aspect of our personality (albeit idealised and heavily edited). The Murray buildings instead offer a cipher, complicating rather than offering easy interpretation, and suggesting a multifaceted and unreadable personality.
As one final flourish, Griffiths has also installed a vast image of Murray on the façade of Baltic itself, adding the former flour mill to his collection of buildings dwarfed by the scale of the Hollywood star.