Editor’s Note: Sarah Waldorf and Annelisa Stephan oversaw the #GettyMuseumChallenge, an initiative that invited people around the world to re-create their favorite artworks during quarantine. The following is an edited excerpt from the book “Off the Walls: Inspired Re-Creations of Iconic Artworks,” a compilation of the challenge’s best submissions. All opinions expressed in this article belong to the authors.
Earlier this year, the Covid-19 pandemic brought life as we knew it to a halt. Much of the world retreated to a solitary life at home. Working remotely, we, at the Getty Museum, asked ourselves how art could be a tonic for people through these uncertain times. Our community asked for fun distraction, and education, too – thus the art challenge was born. The prompt? Pick a favorite artwork, find three objects in your house, re-create the work with those items, and share with us online.
Re-creating art is a long, venerable, delightfully wacky tradition, from the tableau vivant to the museum selfie. For this challenge, we took inspiration from the Dutch Instagram account Tussen Kunst & Quarantaine, which translates to “between art and quarantine,” but we added a twist – inviting people to draw from our Open Content Program, which offers thousands of high-resolution images of art for free. Other museums around the world issued similar challenges to their followers, as did libraries, schoolteachers, and theaters, inviting kids and adults alike to look closely at book covers, film posters, album art, stamps and more.
Millions saw our challenge posted on social media. Millions more saw it on the news. In a matter of weeks, we received hundreds of thousands of submissions from around the globe. They were clever, hilarious, and poignant, and they were often served with a dash of social commentary.
Jeff Koons sculptures were reimagined with socks and Jacques-Louis David paintings were made with fleece blankets and duct tape. Participants fashioned costumes and backdrops out of towels, pillows, scarves, shower caps, coffee filters, bubble wrap, and – of course – toilet paper, and posed in their living rooms with extended family, alone with selfie sticks, in the hospital break room with fellow healthcare workers, and in studios with dramatic lighting.
Vincent Van Gogh and Johannes Vermeer were popular sources of inspiration, especially “The Starry Night” (1889), done to perfection with spaghetti and other food items, and “Girl with a Pearl Earring” (1665). Grant Wood’s “American Gothic” (1930) perfectly captured the socially distant mood, while Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” (1893) was a favorite for people of all ages, and even looked good rendered with textiles.
The creativity that came from this challenge, and the sense of community it forged, speaks to the power of art to bond us together. Art invites us into the experience of others and connects us with our shared past.
“Off the Walls: Inspired Re-Creations of Iconic Artworks,” published by Getty Publications is out now.