Masterpieces in only 90 minutes

Contest: The Baltimore Museum of Art celebrates its 90th year by challenging visitors to produce timely reproductions of its most famous works.

January 12, 2004|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,SUN STAFF

Their works might not end up in the permanent collection, but a group of would-be artists saw their creations hanging yesterday in the Baltimore Museum of Art.

No matter that the pieces were dangling from clothesline, strung between marble columns in the museum's oldest wing. Questions about medium or inspiration were largely irrelevant for this group, whose ages ranged from under 6 to over 60, and who all were playing by the same rules:

Working with graphite pencils, plain white paper and a strict 90-minute deadline, they had set out to sketch their own versions of some of the museum's most famous pieces. The contest of quick-draw reproductions was one of dozens of programs planned to mark the 90th anniversary of the North Baltimore cultural center.

The museum is offering 90 hours of free admission through Jan. 21. Saturday saw a 90-minute experimental-music performance. Before yesterday's 90-minute drawing contest, the museum a week earlier held a 9-minute "sketch slam."

Even with the extra 81 minutes, yesterday's contestants had little time to waste.

"Once you start, 90 minutes is just a little bit of time, really," museum teacher Marjorie R. Anderson told the assembled artists before they headed into the galleries to pick a masterpiece to mimic.

But for the time crunch, the contest was relatively forgiving. Once completed, the pieces all were hung from the makeshift clothesline in the museum's Fox Court. Each contestant got to vote for the best, with the winner taking home a gift certificate to the museum restaurant Gertrude's. No one could vote for his or her own work.

Anderson and docent Susan P. Fillion, who helped oversee the event, encouraged interpretive works. The suggestion was taken to heart by some of the youngest contestants - one of whom offered a rendering of August Rodin's contemplative and hunched statue The Thinker, standing on two feet in this sketch and wearing a broad smile.

"You're free to adapt the work you're seeing," Anderson said. "You can add your own touches to it. ... You're free to ad lib a little bit."

Mostly, though, the artists-for-an-afternoon tried to faithfully reproduce every detail - each shadow, stream of light or fold of clothing - even as most were quick to concede that it was not their calling.

"I'm a numbers person," said Joyce Kemp, 32, a financial analyst with the University of Maryland Medical Center, who spent the 90 minutes replicating Camille Pissarro 's 1880 oil painting The Highway.

"I'm in sales," Kemp's boyfriend, Steve Breinlinger, 26, cheerfully added as he hunched over his version of Gustave Courbet's The Shaded Stream at Le Puits Noir, a complex oil landscape.

As he sketched out his version of one of Edouard Manet's drawings from a series inspired by Edgar Allan Poe's tales, first-year University of Baltimore law student Gregory Care, 22, described himself as "not a very experienced artist - it's kind of just a black-and-white drawing, so it's kind of hard to mess up too much."

"Actually, this is the first time I've ever done anything like this," Care said. "I think this definitely brought out a lot of people who otherwise wouldn't come out. You're seeing a lot of people who aren't really `museum folk.'"

The pieces that reached the clothesline included a striking likeness of Marc Chagall's painting, The Little Concert, sketched by Susie Schweigart, 21, a Latin American studies junior at the Johns Hopkins University; careful renderings of a fifth-century mosaic by 11-year-old Ryan Knopp of Parkville; a reclining marble statue of the Byron character Medora by Adam Rothstein, 22; and a more faithful version of The Thinker by Yosef Levian, 61, who said he works as a gem salesman "to pay the bills" but is an artist at heart.

Thirteen-year-old Diarra Davis said he wants to be an artist. An eighth-grader at Deer Park Middle School, Diarra went to the museum with his sketchbook in hand to work on the portfolio he is preparing to seek admission at Carver Vocational-Technical High School or the Baltimore School for the Arts.

Told about the contest, he grabbed a sheet of paper and drew a sketch of Antoine-Louis Barye's bronze statue, Jaguar Devouring a Hare, while his father waited to drive him home. When the votes were tallied, the easy winner was Diarra's lifelike rendering - completed in well under 90 minutes.

Museum admission is free through Jan. 21, with hours from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Friday and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Special events are planned throughout the period.

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