In the press
An upright piano shaped like a garbage dumpster. A news kiosk at the bottom of a pool. A subway platform rising above the clouds. These are some of the surreal and witty vignettes imagined by German artist Frank Kunert, who has been photographing his hand-built miniature sets since the 1990s, melding a Wes Anderson–style love of whimsical detail with a mordant, Kafkaesque outlook on the absurdity of modern life.
"I realized how fascinating it is to shrink the world and play with perceptions," Kunert says of his early experiments. "It gives me the freedom to construct scenes that otherwise do not exist in such a way or at times cannot exist at all."
Kunert starts each project by sketching in his notebook. Then he moves to building the actual set, which can take him anywhere from two weeks to two months, working alone. Once he has perfected the model and the lighting, he takes a series of photographs with a large-format, 4 x 5-inch camera. His third photo book, LIFESTYLE, was published earlier this year by Hatje Cantz.
Thanks to Kunert’s meticulous craftsmanship, it sometimes takes a few moments for viewers to realize they’re looking at a model. Many of the photographs appear to depict a quotidian scene of domestic life—dining room, a nursery—except for the inclusion of a single jarring detail, like a cradle mounted atop a motorcycle. "I play with perceptions, words, and thoughts," Kunert explains. "Often they have to do with human hopes, fears, and problems, and I try to see all this with a certain sense of humor."
Kunert also loves to create dystopian architecture, like a hotel with rooms accessible only by scaling the outer wall, or a tiny apartment squeezed under a freeway overpass. Many of the images, such as the one depicting a steering wheel in front of a living room window, evoke the work of French surrealist Rene Magritte. Like Magritte, Kunert delivers his social satire with a light, playful touch. "The world is crazy and absurd," he says. "In my opinion, humor in art is a good way of dealing with this."
– WIRED, June 2018
Kunert’s works walk a fine line between the humorous and the ominous.
– The Guardian, April 03, 2018
Kunert plays with habits of seeing and deceives viewers of his pictures. His photos fascinate with their profound sense of humor and at times subtle tragedy.
– Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, May 27, 2014
Still others push deeper into the uncanny, so that the building of models becomes a sublimation of violence. Frank Kunert’s "Menu à Deux" shows a long table, covered in linen and laid with silver, that bends 90 degrees around a corner, so that two diners can watch two separate televisions and pretend they’re alone.
– Will Heinrich; The New York Observer, September 06, 2011
“The building of dioramas for me is a way . . . to control the things that I can’t control in the ‘real’ world. It’s always exciting to dive into the small world in my studio,” writes Frank Kunert, the creator of a series of adorably absurd tableaux. In one, an adult-sized cradle comes equipped with all the comforts of the home office: telephone, file folders – even sad-looking plants.
– Ariella Budick; Financial Times, June 29, 2011
In Frank Kunert’s “Menu à Deux,” meanwhile, the V-shaped dining table and perfectly symmetrical place settings imply a (nonexistent) mirror — or perhaps a difficult relationship.
– Karen Rosenberg; The New York Times, June 16, 2011
All told, it is hard for me to consider this book only a book of photography. Despite the fact that it presents a certain approach to photography, and that the end result is photography to me, this project seems to possess first and foremost the characteristics of the visual arts: installation, objects, staging. Kunert's subtlety and his striving for visual anarchy are fun and thought-provoking, and yet his work leaves you with the sneaking suspicion that the scenes he depicts, albeit exaggeratedly, were all inspired by very real sources. And this means that Kunert's satire may just cause your smile to freeze on your lips
– Review of Topsy-Turvy in PHOTONEWS, April 01, 2008
Like many artists, Frank Kunert, who was born in Frankfurt in 1963, makes models based on real life so that he can take pictures of them. In contrast to the more renowned Thomas Demand, however, Kunert refrains from employing the pathos of history with a capital H. Instead, he uncovers the dreams and the fears of our time by finding irony in small things
– Neue Zürcher Zeitung am Sonntag, March 16, 2008
These models have been designed and photographed with love, and you’ll only discover their subtle irony after a second take
– ELLE DECORATION , November 01, 2007
He creates a fascinating and absurd everyday world
– WESTFALENPOST, September 15, 2007
Want to have contact with the afterlife? This presents no problem in the amazing world of Frank Kunert. Born in Frankfurt in 1963, this artist fashions tombstones with their very own mail slots for newspapers and mail. And in his other works, also, Kunert enjoys turning reality on its head. But if Photoshop tricks a la Doc Baumann are the first thing that pop into your head, think again. Kunert puts his scenes together with meticulous handiwork, not via computer -- which would make things simply move too fast. His way of working slows things down, and it is exactly this laid-back style that may very well be the secret to his whacky ideas. The more absurd, the better! One example is a slide that ends in the middle of the autobahn, which is popular with families with children. "Parents love their kids, but parents also moan about their kids. And it’s when the slide comes into the picture
– PHOTOGRAPHIE, September 01, 2007
Frank Kunert’s studio in the Höchst district of Frankfurt is the center of the world for him. Here, this presenter of reality has got drawer upon drawer where he keeps all kinds of packaging materials, things most of us would simply throw away. While standing in the shower one day, for instance, Kunert’s eyes fell on a green dental floss dispenser cap -- and he thought to himself that it would make the perfect lamp for the tunnel lighting leading up to the entrance of an imaginary pub called the "Light at the end of the tunnel." In the meantime, this artist has got enough dental floss to last him for years
– Andrea Rook; Dresdner Neueste Nachrichten, May 31, 2007
All attempts made at describing Frank Kunert’s work are bound to fail on account of the fact that his often cryptic images, marked by black humor -- such as "Destination restaurant," "Hansel and Gretel are full," "Climate border," and "Adventure pool complex" -- make their rather grumpy humor apparent only after a time of personal contemplation, upon viewing them. Kunert spends months on end working on his miniature worlds, with an obsession for getting the details just right. He then takes photos of his models and provides them with great captions
– Sächsische Zeitung, May 24, 2007
There is a touch of exquisite malice that makes one immediately think of photo montage, but Kunert (born in 1963), in fact builds all of the miniature scenes himself
– Ulrich von Döltzschen; DIE WELT, April 13, 2007
And the impressions that these images leave behind are mind-boggling. When in doubt, a second take never hurts.
– Detlef Sundermann; Frankfurter Rundschau, February 02, 2007
Frankfurt photographer Frank Kunert, too, achieves amazing effects with his miniatures, albeit in an entirely different way. His models are pure fantasy, even if those viewing them might not notice right away, and need a second take. What at first glance looks like the dreariness of city life quickly turns into the simply absurd. There are balconies with no doors, autobahn tunnels that run through apartment houses, and over-sized cooking pots serving as swimming pools. Frank Kunert’s consistently creates his work based on models, using deco boards employed for the making of architectural models. "I’m the type of person who comes up with ideas by working with objects I can touch," he says. And it is exactly this kind of concreteness that viewers should become aware of. "On large prints, you can see the stucco on the models, and this makes them look unusual and less perfect than if the images had been created using a computer," he says. Kunert is not interested in hiding the fact that his photos are of miniatures. In fact, just the opposite is true -- and that’s why he doesn’t make his models too large. "Otherwise everything would look too real. On the big prints it’s perfectly fine if the backgrounds are slightly blurred, and you are aware that the photo is of a model." Kunert also says he has no problem if viewers see a brushstroke or two. They have an unsettling effect as far as the proportions are concerned, but the "analogue look" is a part the concept. "The more things get digital, the greater the desire for tangible objects," Kunert declares. "My work is like an island I can retreat to." Kunert, who was just awarded a Silver Medal from the New Yorker Society of Illustrators at the 3rd Biennial Dimensional Salon, explains that the creation of one model takes anywhere from one week and two months to complete. His work will be on display at Museum of American Illustration through December 29
– PAGE, January 01, 2007
A combination of humor, a certain kind of lightheartedness, but also a very real profundity mark the work of Frank Kunert
– Fabian Löhe; MAGAZIN der Frankfurter Rundschau, December 10, 2005
With his models of scenes, Kunert literally builds homes for his ideas. Thoughts and word games are rendered in 3D, which makes them perceptible in the truest sense of the word. His ideas are condensed and made manifest in objects, and this makes his miniatures handcrafted curiosities. With painstaking diligence and a mind-boggling eye for detail, he works on his scenes until everything in them is perfect, and looks just like the real thing. Frank Kunert overrides reality in a subtle and profound way
– Leipziger Volkszeitung, August 19, 2005
Kunert’s comedies plumb the depths of life
– WELT KOMPAKT, December 16, 2004
His specialty -- building miniatures and then taking photos of them. The results looks so real, you’ll want to dive right in to one of his pools to cool off
– ELLE, August 01, 2004
The paradox will embed itself like a barbed hook in the minds of the viewers, who are wavering between amusement and confusion. Thoughts and ideas will begin to swirl on several levels at once, as they try to put it all together -- the work’s visual appearance, the various perspectives presented and the language spoken. All in all a joy!
– Gert Heiland; Neue Wetzlarer Zeitung, July 23, 2004
Perhaps the very mix of charm and humor is the reason that these models are so likeable. This is wonderful work. Truly wonderful.
– Jörg Schneider; plan.F, Frankfurter Rundschau, April 08, 2004
The scenes automatically reveal short tales that function just like the nonsense poetry of Robert Gernhardt -- they put familiar perspectives and stories on their heads.
– Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, April 06, 2004
This man is in no need of a special pair of glasses to come up with ideas for his 3D cartoon figures. His imagination alone is all it takes. Frank Kunert contends with the threadbare vocabulary of concepts used in our time by building, modeling and tinkering around in a simply delightful way. And just like his works, his trade, too, seems to be constantly shifting sides. Is he an architect? A storyteller? Or a photographer? Frank Kunert is all of the above, but most of all, he is a one-of-a-kind equivocator and a player of ideas.
– DAS MAGAZIN, April 01, 2004
Would this have made Hitchcock laugh? Chances are it would! It’s hard to resist the whimsical charm of Frank Kunert’s photos of plasticine figures.
– Jens Holst; Frankfurter Rundschau, September 27, 2003
The intricate handiwork makes it clear that these works have been made with a love for detail.
– Nadine Mafke; Münchner Merkur, June 06, 2003
In the photo world, Frank Kunert’s work is not without controversy. And yet everyone who appreciates this perfectionist’s handcrafted curiosities will frankly be tickled pink by his photos of plasticine figures.
– Andrea Späth; PHOTO TECHNIK INTERNATIONAL, May 01, 2003
The amount of imagination put into Frank Kunert’s miniature worlds knows no bounds!
– Natascha Kempf; Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, March 15, 2003
This world may be small, but the possibilities are great!
– Silke Hohmann; Frankfurter Rundschau, February 15, 2003
Kunert’s "Small Worlds" engage their viewers with their subtle humor, and distinctly ironic, yet loving view of life.
– Annette Wollenhaupt; Frankfurter Rundschau, August 15, 2002
Things can get pretty unpleasant in Frank Kunert’s world of plasticine. […] Needless to say, this is not you conventional calendar. But people with a penchant for black humor will not be able to wipe the smiles off their faces, for the entire twelve months.
– Hamburger Morgenpost presents their pick of the best calendars of 2002, December 15, 2001