Amherst Magazine

Creative Destruction

Three actors wielding baseball bats wipe out 14 life-size portrait heads.

By Emily Gold Boutilier

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Now you see it, now you don’t. Mark Oxman painstakingly created 16 likenesses of his friend Richard Fink—and then conceived of a plan to destroy most of them.

Three actors took baseball bats to 14 likenesses of an emeritus professor. But don’t worry: it was art.

The Decimation of Professor Richard Fink took place in Kirby Theater at 5 p.m. on a Saturday in mid-September. As the program explained, decimation traditionally refers to killing one in 10, but in this case, one in approximately 10 life-size portrait heads would survive an act of violence. The subject of the portraits: Richard Fink, the George H. Corey Professor of Chemistry, Emeritus.

Mark Oxman, who became friends with Fink while teaching sculpture at Amherst in the 1970s, created the 16 sculptures—unique works, not multiple copies or editions—and conceived of the on-stage decimation as a most unusual tribute to his longtime friend.

The portrait heads were modeled from life and cast in plaster.

By the time the house lights dimmed, more than 100 people—including Fink—were in the theater, where 13 of the sculptures stood in three rows on stage. “Good afternoon and welcome to The Decimation of Professor Richard Fink,” announced director Peter Lobdell ’68, senior resident artist in the theater and dance department. “Enjoy the next four minutes and 40 seconds.”

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Dressed all in black, three hooded actors—Brooke Bishop ’10, Michelle Escobar ’12 and Eric Swartz ’11—marched on stage and began to systematically bash the sculptures with baseball bats. The soundtrack: Prokofiev’s suite from The Love for Three Oranges.

As the brutality (read: performance art) went on, three more sculptures fell from the ceiling and shattered. Soon a cloud of plaster dust filled the stage. When it was all over, spotlights illuminated the two lucky survivors. (The survivors would go to Fink’s two daughters.) The three actors removed their hoods, revealing their faces to the crowd.

“What the hell was that?” exclaimed a student in the second row.

“That was amazing,” sighed his friend.

Photos by John Arthur and Josh Russakis ’13