The Bowdoin Art Museum has replaced its masterpieces of the Italian Renaissance with an array of multi-colored curlicues, and the Brunswick community couldn't be more excited.
The Boyd Gallery, which usually houses a permanent collection of European paintings, has been transformed into an interactive mural this week by students and area residents alike under the direction of Mark Wethli, A. LeRoy Greason Professor of Art and Chair of the Bowdoin Visual Arts department. The project, entitled Salon, is open through Friday, February 25 for people of all shapes and sizes to make their unique marks.
The idea for Salon came from Museum Director Katy Klein, who contacted Wethli when she realized the Boyd Gallery would be completely unused until renovation.
"With the museum still open, the idea of a big, empty room was tempting," Wethli said.
Wethli, also a private artist, has done considerable mural work and various projects throughout the community. When he heard from Klein about the gallery's availability, he immediately knew he wanted to utilize it. However, he did not yet have a plan.
"On one extreme, I could have kept it as a private canvas for two months," said Wethli. Instead, he chose to work with his spring semester Painting I class and the residents of Brunswick to do something entirely different.
"It obviously puts the community in touch with the museum in a new way," he said.
Sarah Chingros, former Assistant Director of Career Planning at Bowdoin, brought her two young children to the gallery to try their hands at painting on the walls without reprimand. Fifteen-month-old Margaret, with streaks of orange across her chin, was too short to reach the walls but was content decorating the plastic sheet covering the lower portion of the room instead.
"It's wonderful to open this up to the public," Chingros said, while helping her daughter make finishing touches. "Opening it up for children makes it real for them. It's an experience to paint in a real museum."
As the Chingros family prepared to leave the museum, the preschool from the Children's Center, clad in plastic smocks, entered. It was just one of many groups throughout the community to have participated in the painting.
The rules of the project are simple?no recognizable images, pictures, symbols, words, letters, or numbers. While there have been few problems so far, some community participants have forgotten to stick solely to squiggles.
"Wethli is in control of what goes on in the room. At his discretion, he paints large geometric shapes overlapping what has already been painted," said Ashley Summers '08 from Wethli's Painting I class. This technique allows Wethli to subtly hide any marks that seem anything less than spontaneous.
Summers is amazed at the progress. "Even after an hour of working on the room, it changes completely."
In order to document these constant changes, Wethli takes a photograph of the gallery every ten minutes from the same perspective. He plans to thread the pictures together to create an animation, which will be available online once the mural is complete.
Salon will be open to the public during regular museum hours until the museum closes in early June for extensive renovations. Until then, the public is invited to come watch the final product unfold, as Wethli and his class paint in what he calls "an open studio." Visitors who wish to see the completed work must do so before the canvas walls are removed or painted-over shortly after graduation.
The impermanence of the project has been both difficult and inspiring to participants. "I found it frustrating at times that I would lay down some paint that I thought looked great and then the second time around, with a different color and brush, it would be covered and altered," said Summers. "However, that's the beauty of the project. It's chaotic how you have no control over what the end product is, making it almost more enjoyable because your mark is not necessary."
Once the interactive portion of the mural is complete, Wethli and his class will continue to paint, using the abstract marks from the community to inspire the finished project. The finished mural will focus on the idea of transformation and metamorphosis, an appropriate theme for a project that is constantly evolving. Students are currently researching historical symbols of rebirth, such as the phoenix and butterfly, which may be incorporated into the end product.
Casey Dlott '07, a painting monitor for the project, is undaunted by the temporary aspect of Salon. "Everything in life is temporary," she said.