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To April 22
Back in the ’40s and ’50s, Frances Glessner Lee, a single-minded heiress and founder of Harvard’s Department of Legal Medicine, spent years building and perfecting 18 dollhouse-sized crime scenes, offering them as a tool for training police detectives. Based on actual murders, the miniatures are breathtakingly lifelike—window shades that go up and down, books with real titles on the spines, and stockings she knit herself with implements the size of sewing needles. The models are also ghoulish, displaying the tiny victims in all their terminal gore: blood spattered on sheets (pictured), corpses hanging from nooses, bodies with knives sticking out. Photographer Corinne May Botz has documented Lee’s work in her exhibition “The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death,” showing it from every conceivable angle, lingering lovingly over such details as the cigarette butts and miniature newspaper in a living room, the buckshot damage on a wallpapered staircase, and a gruesome blood spatter above a baby’s crib. Occasionally, Botz includes a clever touch, as in Living Room, which focuses on a large, wall-mounted (and nicely rendered, for its size) landscape painting—a piece of meta-art if ever there was one. Though Botz’s images surely do justice to their subject matter, they ultimately cannot improve upon them. In addition to puzzling over the murder evidence Lee presented, the viewer marvels at the eccentric criminologist’s handiwork—not at that of her chronicler. The exhibition is on view from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and by appointment, to Saturday, April 22, at Hemphill Fine Arts, 1515 14th St. NW. Free. (202) 234-5601. (Louis Jacobson)