08 May 2011

Sovereign Bank in Springfield, Mass.

On first stepping in to the lobby of the Sovereign Bank building in downtown Springfield, Mass., you see what appear to be reproductions of some very well-known paintings.

Among those represented are: Botticelli's "Birth of Venus," Magritte's "Son of Man," Vermeer's "The Milkmaid," and so forth.

You'll see a photographic representation of the Magritte with this post. You can see photos of the Botticelli and Vermeer works by following those links.

But the paintings in the lobby of Sovereign Bank, it turns out, aren't reproductions, as you'll see if you look more closely. These are 1:1 scale copies, made by college students (non-art majors).

The result is fascinating -- I wish I had had photo reproductions of the originals with me while I was looking them over last weekend. As it was, I could sense but not really study the differences.

Each of the examples involves one or more human figures -- I suspect anything abstract could be construed as 'cheating.' And in these human figures (with the notable exception of the Magritte, which famously involves a green apple where the face should be) require the portrayal of a human face. And there's the rub, for the copyists.

As Cicily observed to me, none of the faces looked quite right. It is as if this is the crucial distinction between a master and even a good copyist.

We weren't there to see this, but to watch Josh Oliveira paint live. For a photo of the result go here.

With all due respect to Oliveira, I think the lobby copies could be transformed with some proper curatorial attention into a wonderful exhibit. As it is, too much is left unexplained by the scarce explanatory material about. Did the students chose which painting they were going to copy, for example, or did they pull the assignment of a hat?

If the latter, I hope the hat involved was a bowler!


Henry said...

What was the point in their being non-art majors, and how could they do as good a job as they did if they were non-art majors?

Christopher said...

I suspect non-art majors would have been tempted to depart from the task -- to display their own creativity by making the apple in the Magritte painting red instead of green perhaps.

Also, the assignment seems a sensible one for non-art majors getting exposure to the arts through a non-required course. It gives them a sense of the mechanics of painting that they wouldn't get from a passive and/or historical approach to the subject.

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