For halloween this year, we put together a “group” costume: a traveling exhibition of modern art. Each person wears a painting in the style of a modern artist.
One of the cool things about this costume is that it is a fully extensible and scalable design: it will look better the more artists that are represented. Having a real crowd would let you include some less well known artists, while still being recognized as a modern art exhibition.
To make this costume we actually started out with paintbrushes and canvas, so the limits of your abilities to use those tools are important considerations. For subject matter, the best choices are iconic artists whose distinctive styles may be recognizable even in third-rate attempts (like ours) to mimic their styles.
(If you happen to actually have some artistic talent, that requirement may not apply to you.)
Some artists that might provide suitable subject matter include Frank Stella, Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, Mark Rothko, Piet Mondrian, Jackson Pollock, Joan Miro, Edvard Munch, Francis Bacon, Amedeo Modigliani, and so forth. (We think that an Alexander Calder mobile would also make an interesting subject, but would require different construction methods.)
Painting materials: Acrylic paint in a variety of colors. Acrylic is a good choice because it is very cheap, durable, easily thinned with water, has no noxious fumes, and dries very quickly. We used foam brushes and disposable boxes to mix and thin the paint.
For your substrate, you will need several pieces of canvas or muslin, approx. 40 x 60″, or whatever proportions are suited to your artwork and the height of the person that will be wearing the costume. We spread ours out on the floor on top of some large plastic drop cloths.
Obviously painting the things can take a while, and exactly what you will do depends drastically on the style. For the Mondrian (pictured) we copied the dimensions from one of his paintings, scaled them, marked them with a sharpie, and then painted over the lines. (Slightly less care was exercised for the splatter painting.)
After we finished the paintings, it was important to separate them from the drop cloths, because there was a lot of moisture trapped by the plastic. Using thumbtacks, we hung the paintings up to dry in the garage. They were completely dry in 24 hours, which is sufficient for acrylic paint under almost any conditions (crushing humidity excepted).
(They turned out somewhat less embarrassing than I was expecting.)
One final, rather optional, detail: add a frame. Many modern art pieces like these are usually shown without a frame– just as a piece of stretched canvas. None the less, you can add a floppy sewn frame to your paintings if you like. On the left is the cross-section of a prototype piece of framing material. It starts with a 6-inch wide piece of fabric, sewn into a loop with a piece of batting inside, and sewn on a couple of corners to give it some feature definition. The end product is a frame piece about two inches wide.
The painting on the right is bordered by a frame of that design, sewn with a knotted wood-grain print.
The two “portrait” aspect-ratio paintings were each supported with a single wooden beam at or near the top, held in place essentially with safety pins. A simple neck strap that supports the beam completes the costume. The “landscape” aspect-ratio painting was sewn to a black long sleeve shirt, for easy movement and instantaneous transformation to gallery mode at a moments notice.
And with that, you’re ready to deploy the costume at the party. Remember to stick together while you’re at the party, or people might start to think that you’re just there as a Rothko, or something.
A couple of obvious variations on this theme: 1. Cheat. Just buy some art posters. 2. Go as a traveling exhibition of a specific artist (Andrew Wyeth?). 3. Go as “stolen art.” 4. Old, stupid classic: Your face as the Mona Lisa. 5. Have everyone dress up with a blank canvas and carry colored ink squirt guns. You can all go as Jackson Pollock’s studio. =D
You can find more costume projects in our Halloween Project Archive.