Catherine Nunes, 23, sat writing post cards on a bench in the gathering dusk in the plaza of the Four Seasons Hotel. Next to her sat a fellow who was trying to read a drug industry newsletter. "He's kind of cute," said Catherine. "I've been trying to pick him up for the last hour, but he's just not responding to anything." And then Catherine gave the man an affectionate slap on the back, and he echoed like hollow metal. Catherine laughed. "I like the strong, silent type."
The man was both strong and silent, and he was also bronze, one of 10 pieces by sculptor and Johnson & Johnson heir J. Seward Johnson on loan to the hotel in Georgetown. The sculptures, bronze castings made from clay models, look like frozen people. The pieces are so realistic that from afar, several of them are frequently confused for real people.
"I was motioning to the one over there, 'Calling Girl,' because I thought she was the hostess," said Michael Sullivan of Boston. "Then I realized she was only a statue. It's not so much a lack of appreciation for art as failing eyesight, but I love them."
The sculptures, brought in to the normally sterile brick Four Seasons courtyard as a promotion for the opening of the Plaza Cafe, add a touch of humanness and humor to the area, and they get almost universally favorable reviews. Said one passer-by: "They are pretty intense. They've really captured the whole spirit of Washington right here."
One of the pieces, of a man under an umbrella hailing a taxi, had cabbies screeching to a halt in front of it for the first few days it was on display, until drivers got used to it. The level of detail is what astonishes most people, and which gives the pieces their credibility. Joyce Hinds of Houston pointed to a piece of a couple peeking into one of the hotel's windows and said: "Look at that one over there--the man's even got rundown heels."
After examining the sculptures, some people settle in to amuse themselves by watching others examine them. Catherine Nunes took great delight in sitting stiffly and then turning sharply to surprise people who came up to examine her apparent companion. "This is the most fun I've had in weeks," she said.
All of Johnson's pieces will continue on display in the Four Seasons courtyard through Monday. On Tuesday, two of the 10 pieces will be moved to a show in New Haven. The rest will remain at least through July.