Time is on their side, so watch out Tick-tock: Folks at the American Visionary Art Museum are winding up their collection of old timepieces.

March 22, 1997|By Sandra Crockett | Sandra Crockett,SUN STAFF

Some are of the Mickey Mouse variety. Others have faces of ducks, rabbits or the Queen of Hearts. There are those that are everyday plain, and plenty more are worn out, beat up, and mighty ugly. Dig a little deeper, though and behold: Is that watch a Rolex?

"We don't know if it's a Rolex or a 'Roex,' " says Theresa Segreti of the American Visionary Art Museum. "We haven't looked too closely at it!"

Perhaps she'd better hurry up and do so. The could-be Rolex is one of 10,000 timepieces the Visionary is hoping to collect to complement its next major exhibition, ominously titled "The End is Near!: Visions of Apocalypse, Millennium and Utopia."

So far, the museum has collected more than 500 watches during "The Big Wound Up" -- its campaign to trade discounts on admission for donated wristwatches: unused or junkers, broken, out of style or otherwise dysfunctional -- even the occasional Rolex, real or not.

The watches will not be part of the exhibit, but they will be displayed somehow. Exactly how has not been determined.

One idea is to have the watches encased in clear resin and made into a pathway, says Mark Ward, the deputy director at the museum.

"They would literally be on the floor," he says. Sort of a march of time.

Thus, notes Segreti, "You can come visit your watch, but don't expect [it] back."

That sense of finality is fitting for "The End Is Near!" Simply put, the exhibit, featuring 250 works of art by 56 artists, is "about the end of the world," says Segreti, the museum's director of design and education.

"What each participating visionary artist has in common is his or her profound belief in an approaching apocalypse and subsequent millennium or some parallel experience of dramatic and personal transformation," is how the museum's literature puts it.

It was Segreti's idea to have people send or take in watches as part of the exhibit. "We wanted people to participate, to get them thinking about time on a personal level. And how more personal can you get than by looking at your wrist?" she says.

Rebecca Hoffberger, founder and director of the museum, which showcases the work of self-taught, non-mainstream artists, puts a little differently.

"Beyond the practical aspects of how we are going to physically use the watches, we wanted people to understand that time is both highly personal and universal," she says.

"The gift of these watches from the public at large reflects for us the diversity of who walks through our door."

A newspaper ad soliciting the watches calls for "plastic, broken, bandless, pocket, gearless, handless ... we're not fussy; whatever you can spare" watches. (By the way, hourglasses, egg timers and metronomes are also accepted.) A donation will get you a dollar off the museum's admission price.

And the museum has been getting, well, just what it asks for.

"It is surprising just how many people are willing to participate," says Rick Gerhardt, admissions supervisor at the museum.

Some folks have mailed in watches. Others take them to the museum. They park their cars, then dash inside to drop off a broken Timex or Swatch, presumably keeping an eye on their working wristwatches all the while.

One of the major contributors to the watch campaign so far is Irv Temes, a Baltimore jeweler who is a dealer in fine watches and clocks. But he also happens to pick up some, well, low-end items along the way.

"I gave them ... whatever," says Temes, who wasn't even sure of the exact number of watches he contributed.

(The museum staff says it was 286.)

The overwhelming majority of the watches donated so far are worthless, the sort that have sat forgotten at the bottom of dresser drawers for years. Their owners will never wear them again, but somehow can't bring themselves to toss them in the trash.

"I think some people are happy to have a place for them to get rid of their watches," Gerhardt says. "People hang on to them. Now they can recycle them."

Pub Date: 3/22/97

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