Living Gallery: Art that Breathes

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Image of models in The Last Supper in Living Gallery

In the museum, paintings hang on the wall. But in Rodeheaver Auditorium, paintings live. Live models—dressed and painted to resemble characters from classic works of art—step onto larger-than-life sets and freeze. For a few minutes you can barely believe these models are real people; they blend seamlessly into gigantic paintings. Then the scene changes and the models step off the stage. Mix in music and drama, and you have something unique to Bob Jones University: Living Gallery.

Since 1998 Living Gallery has been an annual feature in BJU’s Concert, Opera & Drama Series. Combining religious art, powerful music and compelling drama, Living Gallery draws people from all over South Carolina and surrounding states every year.

What is Living Gallery?

As Erin Jones—director of the Museum & Gallery at Bob Jones University—says, Living Gallery “takes masterpieces of art, like da Vinci’s Last Supper or Michelangelo’s Pieta, enlarges [them] to life-size, and fills the work[s] with live models.”

Drama blends the whole narrative of the performance and connects each work of art together. The drama varies from year to year, sometimes portraying biblical characters, sometimes modern characters. But Christ’s work and the powerful truth of redemption are always the focus of the story.

“It will change the way you think about Easter and about art,” Erin continues. “It’s difficult to explain because one needs to experience it. The beauty of the program and its message is spellbinding. . . . There are only two other similar productions in the country, both in California.”

What goes into Living Gallery?

Student Involvement

Any BJU student can participate in the production as a model. And it’s an easy way to get involved in a production even if you’ve never done theatre before. With the exception of the speaking roles, directors cast models based on size. So if you fit the part—literally—you’re in!

But be prepared! Live models have to be able to hold the same position for a period of minutes. It may seem a short time, but it requires a great deal of muscle control.

Hours of Preparation

Just getting each model through makeup can take hours. Not to mention sets, costumes, music and drama rehearsals, and technical rehearsals. The stage crew at Rodeheaver Auditorium devotes meticulous care to creating accurate replicas of the artwork.

Computer Technology

Jason Waggoner, production designer for Living Gallery, explains that he uses CAD (computer-aided design) to scale the works of art to size. “Without this step it would be easy to end up needing extremely large or small models. … We then build the structure, and I paint or carve it. I work with the costume shop to design the costumes and shop fabrics, and with the wig and makeup team to develop the hairstyle and makeup approach.”

Creating these sets takes an enormous amount of time. Waggoner says that “this process takes anywhere from two weeks to two months depending on size and complexity. Also, that time has to happen around other stage projects, so it might be half a year start to finish but maybe there are several works completed in that time.”

Museum & Gallery

The Museum & Gallery houses numbers of religious paintings. Over the years, Living Gallery has incorporated works from the M&G in their production. As Erin Jones says, “Living Gallery is good partnership for BJU and M&G; as an event, it’s created a way for our curious, observing community to be invited, welcomed, and warmly received on a campus … that is often perceived as a ‘closed community.’”

Why do Living Gallery?

These performances tell the Gospel in a unique way. Members of the community, art enthusiasts and even the average curious spectator will hear the Gospel. It is an experience unlike any other.

Jones sums it up by saying, “The beauty of the program and its message is spellbinding; the audience is often reticent to leave after the final curtain because they’re still considering the value of what they’ve seen.”

And you can come experience it for yourself April 18–20. Tickets are available for purchase at livinggallery.bju.edu or by calling (864) 770-1372.

See Also: From Person to Painting: A Living Gallery Photo Story