September 12, 1988 12:00 PM

Tourists admiring the statuary outside Manhattan’s Metropolitan Museum of Art were shocked at first—some could have sworn the statues were ogling them. Then, looking like escapees from the museum’s Greco-Roman exhibits, the engaging marbles—one a flirtatious Adonis, the other a shapely Aphrodite—began to routinely violate all laws of still life. They hopped off their pedestals, made passes at passersby and took snapshots of startled adults and delighted children.

All in a day’s work for Tom Weiss, 27, and Neeva Howard, 33. The two body-beautiful performance artists don skimpy togas, slather on white body paint—hair included—climb on top of inverted garbage cans disguised as Doric columns and stand just as still as, well, statues. Surprising onlookers with the occasional nod, wink or flick of a finger, the lifelike imitations are so convincing that spectators—encouraged by a sign that reads “Your donation helps to preserve the statues”—fill the couple’s coffer with as much as $250 a day. Says Weiss, “We take people back to when they were children, and wonderful things happen, like statues coming to life.”

Their act was born by chance in West Berlin, where Weiss, a German, was taking dance lessons from Howard, an expatriate choreographer from Jefferson City, Tenn. Spotting two empty pedestals in a Berlin sculpture garden, the two hopped up, says Weiss, “as a joke.”

Five years later the joke has financed their travels to the U.S., Asia and Australia. But you can’t amuse everybody. Arrested at the World Trade Center last year, the two “tried to work the policeman into the show because most policemen get a kick out of that,” Weiss says. “This one just got angry. But what a sight, a policeman leading two handcuffed statues down the street. I wish we had a photograph.”

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