Hamsters only live for two or three years. Childhood is almost as brief, and when you look back on it as an adult you see yourself as someone else, a smaller body with another life that ended long ago. Maggie Lee’s new work is suffused with melancholy for lost time. She uses the sort of cages that house hamsters, fish, and other short-lived little pets to build toy tableaux, and presents them on custom wooden stands, brightly painted to enhance the impression of crafty whimsy, with long spindly legs that underscore a sense of fragility. In Psycho (all works 2016), a swath of bedazzled black lace veils a glass tank, its rhinestones reflected in the mirrored bottom. It’s like a little nightclub, and the doll inside wears a sexy black dress. But she sits on the floor, dejected, while a hamster wheel and sawdust shavings mark her surroundings as a rodent’s nest. I Want To Believe feels more upbeat. Shiny plastic squares form a heart on the tank’s floor, and a blond doll in a jaunty red-and-white fringed skirt gingerly steps into them. Variations of affect and composition across the works add up to a changeling portrait of adolescent moodiness. The most arresting member of the series is Beacon’s Closet, on a tall stand at the rear center of the gallery. A doll grasps the pole of a spiral staircase and places a tentative foot on the first step. She’s not in a cage. It’s just her and the stairs, and she’s ready to go up into the frightening freedom of the emptiness around her. —Brian Droitcour
Pictured: Maggie Lee: Bang on the Door, 2016, Jenny doll, glass tank and mixed media. Tank: 6½ by 12 by 6 inches. Table: 52 by 20 by 14 inches. Courtesy Real Fine Arts, New York.