Fakes. Phonies. Forgeries. Institutions are careful not to acquire them
– as a rule. But this month, as it has done for five years, the Fogg Art Museum makes an exception to show some “Fabulous Fakes and Poignant Poetry,” the work of art teacher Deb Whitmore’s fifth-grade students at Captain Samuel Brown School in Peabody. Copies of dozens of works by Picasso, van Gogh, Degas, Renoir, and many other important painters are sharing the walls with the real McCoys, but there’s no art fraud here.
Instead, the students present their own versions of masterworks, each with a poem responding to the art. All of the original works are owned by the Harvard University Art Museums (HUAM), and all have been made available to the fifth-graders for study by HUAM’s Public Education Department. Rendered mostly in colored pencil and pastels, many of the students’ works are faithful to the originals, like Alex Knight’s copy of “Madame Paul” by Claude Monet. The portrait captures a dreamy matron and her no-nonsense dog, and Knight’s poem is written from the dog’s unsentimental point of view. Angela Ikonos has taken a dark Rossetti maiden (“The Blessed Damozel”) and, while reproducing the composition of the original, changed the palette to create a decorative, Murakami-like icon with a halo of flowers.
Kyle Boyce’s interpretation of Max Beckmann’s ‘Self-Portrait in Tuxedo’ (left); Alex Knight’s copy of Claude Monet’s ‘Madame Paul’
Some of the students take a gently mocking approach. Renoir’s grave “M. Choquet” is transformed, in the hands of Nick Meserve, into a cross-eyed goof. “Oh, P.U.,” Meserve’s poem asks, “Did I mention he likes to eat tofu?” Mischief winks from every corner of Sara-Marie Wright’s copy of “The Rehearsal” by Edgar Degas: While his dancers monitor themselves, Wright’s young ballerinas grin playfully at the viewer.
The fakery – and the originality – can be seen at the Fogg through April 22.
By Max Daniels