The Swing, the Young Priestess, and the Whole Masterworks Story

260px-William-Adolphe_Bouguereau_(1825-1905)_-_Young_Priestess_(1902) Back in 2004, I had a phone conversation that started me on a completely unexpected path. It was  with friend and artist Todd Neufeld. I had brought up the fact that if I showed people my drawings, they'd discuss the "art" I created. But no matter what I made with balloons, they would express how my balloon twisting skills made these creations look "just like art." During this conversation, I had this brilliant idea that I should reinterpret some famous piece of artwork with balloons. My theory was that if I made something that people have already identified as art, they'd stop saying that what I made was "like art." He got excited about the idea and told me that he had just read an article about the most parodied American art and that I really needed to create my own version of Grant Wood's American Gothic. He said almost every American, at every age, would recognize the painting, even if they didn't know the name or who the artist was that painted it.

I was joking. Todd completely missed that. But his insistance on creating this one work did get to me. When I hung up the phone, I decided to make Air-merican Gothic. Maybe it wasn't really that bad an idea. A few hours later, I emailed Todd a photo I had taken with the only camera at my fingertips. It was a small point and shoot camera. It was a low resolution photo. It amused me. I thought Todd would get a chuckle out of it and that would be the end. But once it was created, I started showing it to more people. I used the image on a new business card, figuring I didn't need a high resolution image for such a small space. I posted it on the web, where, at the time, low resolution images were the norm. And then I got a request from Smithsonian Magazine to run it in a story they were doing about Wood's painting.


Since that time, that one recreation has turned into a series of Masterworks. Mona Lisa, The Girl with the Pearl Earring, eleven pieces so far. The last few done with Kelly. Somehow, this thing that started as a silly little diversion keeps popping up. This summer, we're doing two more.

A week from now, on June 30, we'll be creating our interpretation of William-Adolphe Bouguereau's Young Priestess. Thanks to sponsorship from Bond, Schoeneck & King, we'll be creating this at the Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester, NY. We'll be doing this live, on the gallery's lawn, from 12:00-5:00 while people watch. We expect visitors to stop by multiple times throughout the afternoon to watch the progress. Toward the end of the afternoon, when we complete the piece, we'll invite visitors to pose for photos with the priestess.

Airmerican Gothic

Later this summer we'll be constructing Jean-Honoré Fragonard's The Swing at the Phelps Art Center in Phelps, NY. This project will be significantly more involved than the project with the Bouguereau painting. In Phelps, we'll be working with the community to turn this 18th century painting into a 3D sculpture that will fill a few hundred square feet of the main gallery. Construction will take place July 27-31. Community members are invited to take part in the construction. We'll be working with up to five community members at a time over the week. This will allow up to 50 people to sign up to take part in this unique art experience. We don't care if you have any experience with creating art in any medium. We'll teach you what you need to know in order work with us. We'll give you tasks that you're comfortable with and make sure you learn and have fun! If you don't want to work with us, you're still welcome to stop by during regular gallery hours to watch the whole thing come together.


The Phelps exhibit will officially open with the artist's reception on August 1 and will run through August 17. While we will do our best to make sure it looks good through that entire stretch, we recommend showing up early during the exhibit to see it when it's freshest. Then come back toward the end to see how it changes over time. And if you're there on the last day, you can have an opportunity to help pop balloons and win prizes that are hidden inside the sculpture. Some prints from our Masterworks series are currently on display in the gallery. The entire series, along with the Once Upon a Time series will also be on display in the gallery during the entire event, starting on July 27. So there's lots to see at this exhibit.

For more information on The Swing, visit the PAC web site. You'll learn there how to sign up for an artist in residency slot, the Pop-pin The Swing event at the end, and sponsorship opportunities related to the event.