While stuck at home, imitate great artists with #RecreateDIA

Michael H. Hodges
The Detroit News

How many times have you dismissed a great work of art in a museum by saying, "I could do that." Well, it's put-up-or-shut-up time.

Taking a cue from Los Angeles' Getty Museum, the Detroit Institute of Arts has challenged people to tap their inner artist and mimic the museum's work of their choice with the #RecreateDIA campaign on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

It's only been up a couple weeks, but already a ton of clever submissions have been posted on social media.

Photographer Melissa Arondoski recruited her daughters, 10 and 6, in this recreation of Artemesia Gentileschi's "Judith and Her Maidservant with the Head of Holofernes" at the DIA as part of the #RecreateDIA campaign.

DIA Director Salvador Salort-Pons, no artistic pushover, has been deeply impressed.

"They are all very, very creative," he said Wednesday of the #RecreateDIA postings. "This is a great activity. It's exactly what the DIA is all about – people finding personal meaning in art, and sharing that with one another."

Among the pieces that have come in for imitation are van Gogh's "Portrait of Postman Roulin," Bouguereau's "The Nut Gatherers," Picasso's blue-period "Melancholy Woman," Otto Dix's stern "Self Portrait" and Fuseli's ever-popular "The Nightmare," with its demon sitting atop the dreaming woman.

Van Gogh's "Portrait of Postman Roulain" at the Detroit Institute of Arts gets a modern makeover as part of the #RecreateDIA projectd.

One of the most-impressive "copies" came from Melissa Arondoski, the owner of Mojo Photo in Grosse Pte. Park.

Given that she's got two young daughters, a friend suggested Artemesia Gentileschi's drama-filled, grisly "Judith and Her Maidservant with the Head of Holofernes" might be a good candidate for imitation.

The story comes from Judith's attempt to save her town in ancient Israel, which was under attack by Holofernes' army. She seduces the general and then beheads him, sparing her people from attack.

As it happens, Arondoski had a severed head right at hand. "We're big into Halloween," she said, "so we already had one."

No surprise, perhaps, getting her daughters -- Helena, 10, and Josie, 6 -- involved was a snap.

"They were really into this," Arondoski said. But dealing with the studio lighting presented a bit of a challenge when shooting kids.

"If you’ve ever done studio lighting," she said, "it takes time. But you have to work fast, dealing with the patience of a 10 and six-year-old. But they held their poses pretty long."

Melissa Arondoski's skills in the photo studio created the dramatic chiaroscuro lighting Artemesia Gentileschi employed with "Judith and Her Maidservant with the Head of Holofernes."

To mimic Gentileschi's sharp-edged, chiaroscuro contrast between light and dark, Arondoski said she employed two strobe flashes -- one with its beam narrowed to focus on Judith, knife in hand, and then "a little fill-light so my youngest daughter could be seen," who's wrapping the head in cloth.

"It's funny," said Arondoski, who shoots a lot of weddings and portraits, "I never photograph my kids. I never have time to. Plus, they don't pay. But now we’re all stuck in the house."

Their next project? Helena has her eyes on "The Nightmare," if she can get the cooperation she needs. "We’ll see if we can get the little six-year-old to be the demon," her mother said.

William Adolphe Bouguereau's 1882 "The Nut Gatherers" was a popular work for at-home artists to mimic.

This concept, says Salort-Pons, has ricocheted through museums around the world.

"Many museums are doing it," he said, "including the Prado, the Uffizi and the National Gallery."

One of the works he's repeatedly seen imitated worldwide is the DIA's "Self Portrait" by van Gogh.

"I’ve seen so many individuals using our self-portrait," Salort-Pons said. "They don’t know it’s in the DIA, but use it because it's so popular."

To find dazzling and often humorous examples of citizens imitating the artistic greats, just search for "#RecreateDIA" on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. And if you post one of your own creations, be sure to tag it with that name.


(313) 815-6410

Twitter: @mhodgesartguy