A Doll’s House

Small-scale sketches created in Wheeling and framed works painted in Tarquinia, Italy, have come together as a grand-scale work covering the walls at a New York City gallery.

“The Lunar Landing” is the work of Helen Oliver Adelson, an artist who splits her time between the same three geographical areas.

The gallery, Participant Inc., at 258 E. Houston St. in the Lower East Side, has never hosted a work like this before – described by gallery director Lia Gangitano as “a site-specific installation of wall paintings, incorporating sculptural elements and discreet paintings.”

The show opens with a reception from 7-9 p.m. today.

Adelson has transformed the gallery into a huge dollhouse, painting about eight hours a day for several weeks. She began in August.

“I normally do portraits,” she said. Her portraits are usually oversized – maybe 6 feet by 4 feet – but never this scale, the size of a room.

“I’ve had this idea I’ve been dying to do. … It feels like you’re walking into a giant doll’s house, and you’re the doll,” Adelson said.

Indeed it does.

There are Victorian architectural details such as balustrades, stairs, doors and windows. Small portraits, some of her cats and some landscapes, hang in all of the painted windows. A terrace then moves the viewer beyond the dollhouse into a forest and eventually out to sea. A tiny – relatively speaking – cat, sculpted and cast in bronze by Wheeling artist Duane McCausland, sits at the bottom of the back wall at the gallery.

The walls are white with black paint; the only color is in the smaller paintings.

“I was doing a backdrop for a monologue Edgar (her brother, Edgar Oliver) was doing here, and the director asked me to do something bigger.”

Oliver, an actor, poet, playwright and performance artist, will perform two evenings of monologues, Sept. 22 and 29, at the gallery, again with his sister’s work as the backdrop.

Adelson, who has been painting for about 35 years, and her brother founded a gallery, Pompeii, together in the mid-1980s in the East Village. She’s had shows in New York, Paris, Switzerland, Italy and Wheeling.

Gangitano noted “how history overlaps with the present.” The seed for this project was planted by artist Kembra Pfahler, whose first solo show was at the Pompeii.

“We’ve worked a lot with Kembra. It’s a very intergenerational scene, really,” Gangitano said.

In preparation for this piece, a few weeks ago Adelson sketched out the idea in small scale on a wall in Wheeling, then traced it onto a roll of translucent paper. Then the work was expanded in size and sketched onto the walls of the gallery, which measures about 65 feet long and 25 feet wide. The ceiling is about 16 feet high.

She agreed that painting on this scale is more fun than she’s ever had.

“Very few people get the chance in their lives to paint a space this big. It’s like a dream come true. Sometimes when I’m painting, I think, ‘Am I dreaming?'”

The work “The Lunar Landing,” is named for the home Adelson shares with Jerome Poynton in Tarquinia, Italy. Poynton, who also lives in Wheeling and New York, was a contender for mayor of Wheeling in 2012.

The work of art, on gypsum wallboard over brick walls, will exist only until Oct. 13. The walls will be transformed from art back to blank walls.

“A lot of what we do does not include traditional art,” Gangitano noted. The gallery usually hosts performance and installation projects, she said.

The walls will be skim-coated after the show ends, Gangitano said, but “we’ll document it fully,” she said of Adelson’s work. Because so much of the work at Participant is ephemeral, “for us, archiving and documentation is important.”

“No one has painted directly on the walls. It’s really exciting,” she said.