By Emily Gold Boutilier
I took my 6-year-old to watch three actors take baseball bats to 14 works of art. Does that make me a bad parent? You be the judge.
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The Decimation of Professor Richard Fink took place at 5 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 18, in Kirby Theater. My daughter, Samantha, insisted we sit in the front row. Reading the program, I learned that, while decimation traditionall y refers to killing one in 10, in this case, one in approximately 10 life-size portrait heads would survive an act of brutality. 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. The portrait heads were modeled from life and cast in plaster.
By the time the house lights dimmed, more than 100 people had gathered 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.”
As Samantha snacked on crackers (not organic), three hooded actors—Brooke Bishop ’10, Michelle Escobar ’12 and Eric Swartz ’11—marched on stage and systematically bashed the sculptures with baseball bats. Part of Prokofiev’s suite from The Love for Three Oranges provided the soundtrack.
I don’t know Richard Fink. I certainly have nothing against the man. Yet it was strangely satisfying to watch his likeness destroyed. Samantha seemed to agree. She sat transfixed, smiling. Every so often, a sculpture would fall from the ceiling and shatter—the best part, according to my daughter. Soon a cloud of plaster dust filled the stage. When it was all over, spotlights illuminated the two lucky survivors. The three actors removed their hoods, revealing their faces to the exhilarated crowd.
“What the hell was that?” exclaimed the man behind me.
“That was amazing,” sighed his friend.
Emily Gold Boutilier is the editor of Amherst magazine.