These Centuries-Old Artworks Are Being Updated for Coronavirus

McCann creatives discuss their 'Quarantine Series'

Perhaps it's creativity as therapy, but lots of folks have been using their creative skills to address the coronavirus pandemic through side projects. Here's one of the more esoteric efforts in that regard.

Over the past year, Mikayla Lapierre, an art director at McCann New York, has been doing an Instagram series called Side Dimes, where she takes 18th and 19th century art and infuses it with pop culture references—adding bubble gum, Happy Meals and lots of other modern accessories to classic portraiture.

When the coronavirus outbreak happened, she and McCann copywriter Julian Cohen began talking about what they could do to share the message about staying home. They decided it could be a fun twist for Lapierre's existing project.

Over the past four days, six new posts on the @SideDimes feed show classic paintings by Vittorio Reggianini updated with face masks, toilet paper and the like. The account has tripled its followers, and Diane von Furstenberg even reposted piece on her Story.

We spoke with Lapierre and Cohen about the project.

When did you originally start Side Dimes, and what was the inspiration for it?

Mikayla Lapierre: @SideDimes started when I was studying abroad in Lacoste, France. While there, I spent a lot of my time in museums admiring European art. I was specifically drawn to William-Adolphe Bouguereau and his modern interpretation of the female body. I was inspired by the femininity of each piece and couldn't help but think that behind these women lived much more of a narrative. I started @SideDimes as a way to give a voice to the women of the 18th and 19th century. I wanted to mash up the old and the new—ideas, understandings, trends and pop culture—to create an original and irreverently "side" piece. 

What does the name Side Dimes mean?

Mikayla: Because Side Dimes can be serious but lighthearted at the same time, I feel like it can take two different tonalities. Another thought behind it is that it's also my "side project," and because I mostly focus on women, the word "dime" came into play thereafter.

What is compelling about adding pop references to old works of art? Is it mostly just fun, or there something deeper about it?

Mikayla: There's something really cool behind works of art that have traveled through time. Although these subjects lived in an entirely different century, we can still relate to the emotions and the thoughts they might be having. Most of these come from a lighthearted place, but I also think I can tell a more powerful message with some of them. The most popular pieces to date are, "So Extra" and "I Voted". One of them is an elegant woman blowing a bubble of gum and the other is an extravagant woman sporting an "I Voted" sticker. I find that the more simple and relatable my work is, the more people want to share it or hang it on their walls. 

How did you decide to focus on COVID-19 with the new posts?

Julian Cohen: While self quarantining, Mikayla and I were chatting and decided we wanted to create a lighthearted piece on how to spread the message of the importance of staying at home. Since art has always documented history, we thought that doing a COVID-19 art piece would be relevant and timely. Mikayla suggested we do it in the same style as her @SideDimes work, and spread it socially through her platform, which I thought was an awesome idea to be able to blend our skills for a good cause, and obviously a great result. So we started spitballing ideas of what our subjects could be doing in each piece, knowing full well this would extend to become a series.

Mikayla: We came up with situations for each subject, and I started editing them. We really wanted to spread awareness about social distancing and staying at home. So, we pulled inspiration from what we're dealing with daily, like people wearing masks, shortages on toilet paper, social distancing and our endless search for hand sanitizer in NYC.

How do you select the artworks to use?

Mikayla: When I come across a painting that I find interesting, I save it and put it aside for an idea that I may have in the future. For the "Social Distancing" series, I had these [Reggianini] paintings saved for years. And when Julian and I were chatting, these came to mind immediately.

How popular have the six images been?

Mikayla: It's been pretty crazy to be honest. @SideDimes tripled its followers in a matter of days. Because this series is so relatable to everyone in the world right now, people are reacting in a super positive way to this as comic relief. 

Do you have a favorite, and could you describe what you like best about it?

Julian: It's tough to pick because the goal of the series is truly about social distancing awareness, but if I had to pick one it would probably be "was that a cough." [See the image above] I really like it because without reading the caption, the image doesn't have as much meaning. But in today's world, whenever someone coughs, we think twice.

Mikayla: My favorite piece out of the series would have to be, "double ply only." [See below.] Given the toilet paper craze we are falling victim to, that's the most relatable one for me. I hope these pieces can not only serve as comic relief but also help spread awareness of the importance of staying home during these really tough times.

Where does the project go from here?

Mikayla: I learned how successful it is to respond to current events and I plan to keep making pieces that are relevant for the times we're living in. It was really fun collaborating with Julian, and we're already chatting about what we can do next.

Tim Nudd
Tim Nudd was editor in chief of the Clio Awards and editor of Muse by Clio from 2018 to 2023.

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