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This Museum Is Asking People to Remake Famous Artworks With Household Items

The Getty Museum hopes its social media challenge will spark inspiration amid the COVID-19 pandemic

Johannes Vermeer's The Astronomer, 1668, (left) and recreation by Zumhagen-Krause and her husband featuring tray table, blanket and globe (right) (Courtesy of the J. Paul Getty Museum)
smithsonianmag.com

Despite museums closing their doors due to the COVID-19 pandemic, people are still finding ways to feel artistically inspired from the comfort of their homes.

Last week, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles sent out a tweet asking individuals self-isolating at home to recreate their favorite pieces of artwork. But there’s a catch: Participants must make their masterpieces using everyday household items.

After days of being cooped up inside, members of the public proved more than willing to accept the challenge, responding with personalized remakes of pieces by the likes of Paul Cézanne, Rembrandt van Rijn, Johannes Vermeer, Salvador Dalí and Pablo Picasso. Some stay-at-home artists pulled from their stashes of coronavirus supplies (rolls of toilet paper and coffee filters, for instance), while others enlisted the help of their pets, children’s toys and even that morning’s breakfast toast to remake the perfect portrait.

Van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh's Irises, 1889, (left) and recreation by Cara Jo O’Connell and family using Play Doh, carrot slices and wooden beads (right) (Courtesy of the J. Paul Getty Museum)

The Getty’s challenge was inspired by a similar online event presented by the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam earlier this month. So far, the Los Angeles museum has received thousands of submissions, no two the same.

“There’s a really great one where a woman took an ancient Greek sculpture and recreated it to a tee by posing with a canister vacuum,” says Annelisa Stephan, the Getty’s assistant director for digital content strategy. “There have been thousands of amazing ones. … Some of them are brilliant artistically, but they’re all just really funny.”

Other standouts, adds Stephan, include a version of the Louvre’s Winged Victory of Samothrace made with an energy drink and a ripped-up subway receipt and a remake of Dalí’s The Persistence of Memory featuring a peanut placed on a Brillo pad.

In other words, pretty much anything goes. Artists can select images from the Getty’s online photo archive, which contains two million images from the museum’s massive collection of paintings, drawings, photographs and sculptures. Self-Portrait, Yawning, by Joseph Ducreux and American Gothic by Grant Wood are proving to be two of the most popular sources of inspiration.

Vacuum Lady
Male Harp Player of the Early Spedos Type, 2700–2300 B.C. (left) and recreation with canister vacuum by Irena Ochódzka (right) (Courtesy of the J. Paul Getty Museum)

To help get people’s artistic juices flowing, the Getty has published a helpful guide offering tips on how to choose an artwork; orient a subject in the best light; and, finally, share on social media platforms like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook using the hashtags #betweenartandquarantine and #tussenkunstenquarataine.

The challenge arrives as communities around the globe grapple to hold themselves together during a pandemic that is unlike anything most people have witnessed in their lifetimes.

“The heartening part of this is not just the creations, but how generous and kind people are in the comment [sections] by holding each other up,” says Stephan. “When [the Getty] was thinking about what we could do during this time when so many museums are closed, it seemed to us that what art could really offer is a sense of community.”

Explains Stephan, “Being at home, people are feeling isolated, so this has been a fun way to have a community not only with friends and family, but also with friendly strangers on the web. It’s really an attempt to build community around art for people who love art and appreciate it, whether or not you’re an artist.”

About Jennifer Nalewicki

Jennifer Nalewicki is a Brooklyn-based journalist. Her articles have been published in The New York Times, Scientific American, Popular Mechanics, United Hemispheres and more. You can find more of her work at her website.

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