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When the Post announced in March that it would discontinue its annual Peeps diorama contest after 10 years, readers began crying marshmallow rivers. And we knew what we had to do—to give the peeple what they want and take up the contest. Though the Post cited declining submissions as one of the factors for ceasing the popular feature, we received a healthy haul. Ultimately, we selected the top three and six finalists, which are ranked in order here and now on view at National Harbor, our contest partner. Determining which dioramas were most worthy for readers to view in these pages wasn’t as difficult as real journalism, but it was certainly more internally divisive. There were intense shouting matches, ranked voting, multiple viewings, art history discussions, and a few allusions to just who does, and doesn’t, have a BFA. There was even a photo-shoot mishap—involving a falling temporary framing wall—that nearly destroyed one of the Kusama entries. Many thanks to all who participated. We hope to see you again next year. Now, our winners. —Liz Garrigan
Photographs by Darrow Montgomery
1. “The Peeple v. O.J. Simpson”
By Larisa Baste
No true crime event recaptured the pop cultural zeitgeist in 2016 more than the O.J. Simpson trial. Between the seven-and-a-half-hour Oscar-winning documentary O.J.: Made in America and the Emmy-winning FX miniseries The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story, it seemed all people could talk about was the O.J. Simpson trial … again. So it’s fitting that the winner of our first annual Peeps diorama contest is Larisa Baste’s exquisitely detailed rendering of the infamous courtroom saga, made entirely of Peeps. Baste, who entered a Peeps diorama based on the film Gravity three years ago, says it took her “66-plus hours” to make her “The Peeple v. O.J. Simpson” diorama. “It kind of got out of control, watching all the O.J. documentaries” in order to get the character details just right, Baste says. (Just look at the accuracy of the glasses and mustache on the Fred Goldman Peep!). Well, it paid off.
2. “Peep Show: All the Eternal Love I Have for the Peeps”
By Jeremy Mark, Kate Blizinsky, Ariel O’Connor
Yayoi Kusama’s current exhibition at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden is easily the museum’s most popular exhibition in years, perhaps ever. So it’s no surprise that City Paper received a lot of Kusama-themed Peeps diorama entries. Many of them were great, but none compared to the incredible detail of Jeremy Mark, Kate Blizinsky, and Ariel O’Connor’s “Peep Show: All the Eternal Love I Have for the Peeps.” Complete with actual mirrors and lights to replicate Kusama’s “infinity mirror” effect, Mark, Blizinsky, and O’Connor’s diorama—the first they’ve made—took them about 20 hours over a couple of weeks to make. But their biggest challenge? Getting in to see the actual exhibit, much like the rest of us. Mark says it took them a bit to get tickets, but once they did, they thought it “would be great as a Peeps diorama.”
3. “Peep Haring as Photographed by Annie Peepovitz”
By Kathleen Canedo
We here at City Paper are art nerds, so we instantly recognized—and were delighted by—Kathleen Canedo’s rendering of photographer Annie Leibovitz’s iconic portrait of artist Keith Haring. Everything about Canedo’s diorama, from the primitive black-and-white set design and line painting on Haring—in his signature style—to the depiction of Annie Peepovitz behind the camera is accurate and painstakingly detailed. It might seem irrelevant—considering a majority of the entries this year went to great lengths to allude to the current political and/or cultural moment—but it taps into such a classic American image. What Canedo loves about the Peeps contest is not unlike Haring’s artistic sensibilities: “It’s accessible art,” she says.
4. “Bob Ross’ Happy Little Peeps”
By Carol Lee, Anna Mayer, and Nadja Cherbubet
This entry inspired vigorous debate among City Paper staffers. It had several fanatical loyalists and a few equally impassioned detractors, the latter of whom felt the execution was too simplistic. Created by three Poolesville High School students, the entry was an assignment for an art history class. “I painted the Bob Ross art by following an actual Bob Ross tutorial,” says Carol Lee, one of the students. Among the criticisms from staffers who weren’t thrilled by the entry was that there weren’t very many Peeps used for the diorama. But it turns out that the photo the trio submitted simply didn’t reveal them all. “There are also three Peeps in the box,” Lee says. “Those are meant to represent some of the animals he brings in during his episodes. On the top of the piece, the bunny ears poking out are from a decapitated Peep. The dials on the TV are also painted Peeps.”
5. “Junior High Peep-Over 1972”
By Tyna Gaylor and Maja Lee
Sisters Tyna Gaylor and Maja Lee made their diorama early, in anticipation of the annual Post contest. “We had this thing done and were going, ‘Well it looks like we have a really fun Easter centerpiece,’” Gaylor recalls of when the pair believed the contest was dead. City Paper is delighted that the world is able to see this diorama, inspired by 1970s sleepovers. At 1:30 a.m., mom and dad Peeps come down to the basement to check on the group of girls with their sleeping bags, game of Twister, Ouija board, and The Twilight Zone on TV. Gaylor and Lee, who aren’t big crafters, may have discovered a talent they didn’t realize they had. “I’m a little bit crafty, but I’m an accountant,” Gaylor says.
6. “Multiple Peep-spectives of Inauguration Weekend”
By Leonard Bailey
Forced perspective gives this diorama by attorney Leonard Bailey the illusion of depth, looking out over two crowds. On the left, Peeps of many colors gather for the Women’s March. On the right, yellow Peeps in red caps listen to President Trump’s inaugural address. Behind the first row or two of marshmallow Peeps are many more Peeps, which Bailey photographed and printed out in smaller-than-life sizes to create the sense of depth. Bailey has been a runner-up for the Post diorama contest before, with 2011’s “Inpeeption,” a take on the film Inception. He was glad to see the contest endure. “People in Washington take themselves so seriously,” he says.
7. “Through the Peep Hole: Infinity Peeps”
By Lauren Leadmon and Rachel Link
Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrors exhibit inspired so many dioramas, the Hirshhorn could’ve held its own Peeps contest. This was another of our favorites. Glowing pink LED lights illuminate the mirrored interior, visible through a hole in the box. The exterior is a tribute to the exhibit’s “Obliteration Room,” a white room filled with Ikea furniture that the public gets to cover in colorful, round stickers. Leadmon bought the white box for the diorama at Ikea, and, as with the exhibit, viewers can stick colorful circles on the outside.
8. “Infinity Peeps: All The Eternal Love I Have for Peepkins”
By Ashley Casper and Chad Bartlett
The detail in this entry, submitted by a former semi-finalist for the Post’s Peeps diorama contest (last year’s depiction of Capitol Hill sledding), is stunning. “Unfortunately, one Peep got a little too close to the exhibit, breaking one of the glowing peepkins,” the creators wrote in their submission, referring of course to the February news that someone trying to take a selfie at the Infinity Mirrors exhibition broke one of the Kusama pumpkins. “Not to worry, our trained Peep medics are repairing it now,” they continue. Ashley Casper and Chad Bartlett estimate that they spent 60 hours on the diorama. “Most of Chad’s hours were spent using a drill to hollow out all of the peepkins for the LED lights,” says Casper, who painstakingly crafted Peep-sized clothing and Starbucks cups. Their diorama includes a tiny City Paper with itty-bitty headlines and even a cover selfie of them standing in the room they re-created, their “autograph” of sorts on the piece.
9. “It Looked Like a Million, a Million and a Half Peeps”
By Eleanor Tilghman
The genius of this entry is its simplicity. One look, and it’s clear that it represents a contrast between the anemic inauguration turnout for Donald Trump versus the hordes for Barack Obama. It too was the subject of much disagreement inside the City Paper offices. “But they ran out of Peeps and started cutting them in half to make more!” one spirited critic said just before we launched our voting. In fact, Tilghman says, “I had tons of Peeps, but I was trying to create perspective.” So that didn’t work out so well, but it was still worthy enough to become a finalist.