Evocation of the missing ones
This exhibition has the merit to approach the doll not only through the more expected and familiar angle of a toy for children, but as a cultural testimony through times and cultures, as well as a subject/object in contemporary artworks. One can however consider that very few artists today (and I make a distinction between “artists” and “doll artists”) can claim a genuine work on the doll as an exploration rather than as a punctual or accessory theme. An acknowledged reference in this domain, Hans Bellmer is far from being the most representative of this interest in the subject, which has attracted, as soon as the early 20th-century, many different artists from different backgrounds and cultures. One thinks of the early works by constructivist artists Oskar Schlemmer and Malevitch, to Marie Vassilieff, a cubist artist which was supported by Paul Poiret (for which she designed the perfume bottle “Arlequinade”), creator of original dolls (see BillyBoy* article in DOLLS magazine, October 1993). There was also Sasha Morgenthaler wife of painter Ernst Morgenthaler and close friend to sculptor Karl Geiser who encouraged her in doll creating. Sasha Morgenthaler invented a style of dolls for children of an incredible modernity, working on the aesthetic and pedagogic aspect, her doll boxes were designed by Bauhaus artist Max Bill and she can be considered the first doll maker to make a Bauhaus-type doll. For BillyBoy*, Sasha dolls are the most beautiful dolls ever created for children. There is a charming house - now a museum, in Zurich which displays Sasha Morgenthaler’s studio dolls, but also some examples of her wonderful animal creations and drawings.
One could also mention from Germany the works of Dora Petzold and Marion Kaulitz who initiated the first “artist dolls” thusly destined for adult collectors. Their creations had a great influence on more commercially-made dolls and notably those by Kathe Krüse, known for her wonderful typical German children dolls with poignant faces, lonely and aloof yet innocent. In America, one has to mention the wonderful Schoenhut dolls in the early 20th-century, then the amazing creations by Deewees Cochran, who invented the “portrait doll”. Commissioned by the elite of the time who wanted faithful three-dimensional reproductions of their children as dolls, these poetical renditions were considered as the equivalent of three-dimentional paintings. In another register, I’d like to mention the W.P.A dolls (Works Progress Administration), created under the auspices of Franklin Delano Roosevelt during the Great Depression. The project sought to instill confidence and pride by providing temporary jobs which taught marketable skills especially to people who had little or no job training. These dolls were offered to children in hospitals and schools.
The history of fashion dolls, which is a great French invention of the 19th-century, is surprisingly not evoked here. Historic Bru, Jumeau or Huret dolls, which rivaled in luxury and refinement totally unconceivable today for children’s playthings, are not included in the exhibition. No mention either of The Théatre de la Mode dolls which, under the auspices of Lucien Lelong, President of The Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, promoted after the Second World War the know-how and realisations of all the fashion houses and métiers d’arts (hat makers, shoe makers, including handbags and other accessories), an event which involved the creative talents of gifted artists such as Christian Bérard, Jean Cocteau, André Beaurepaire, Eliane Bonabel and many others. This historical cultural event, which promoted French high Fashion in France and America had chosen sophisticated dolls, made with elaborate wire bodies and clay heads, to be their ambassadors. It was in homage to this historical event that BillyBoy* named the tour of his Barbie dolls dressed by couturiers and designers the New Theater of Fashion, in 1985.
Last but not least, the historic and mythical Bleuette doll, which was after all the first personality fashion doll ever (1905-1960), would have also deserved a justified representation in this exhibition. I like to think that is is maybe to make it up for these missing ones that, thanks to Martine Lusardy's choice, such a big part has been devoted to Zibbi, to La Petite Fille Modèle, Mademoiselle Rivière and Mdvanii dolls , because they are the only dolls created by artists in this exhibition which have their roots in the grand French tradition of fashion dolls which they transcend in pure art forms.
The exhibition POUPEES shines a light on a subject often too fragmented, mostly addressed by doll museums which unfortunately often suffer from a lack of rigour, a genetic ignorance of visual sense (and more likely, of ideas) since it is so easy to display anything anyhow when it comes down to dolls. In spite of the points that I outlined here, the exhibition of La Halle Saint Pierre has the merit to be a precedent of a certain kind, bringing an approach to the theme of dolls a wider angle, notably the interesting one of its presence in contemporary art. As written by Allen S. Weiss co-curator of the exhibition in the introduction of the book/catalogue by Gallimard, “This book has no aspiration to be didactic. This is why it proposes ritual dolls as well as dolls by artists and writers, without presenting them in the context of an analysis or a documentary, according to choices both intimate and heterogeneous. They are obviously un-related, since they all come from different worlds. We do not pretend to create a new world, we simply are go-betweens, proposing dolls, revealing fantasms”.
Lala Jean Pierre Lestrade
© Mars 2004.
The Fondation Tanagra, BillyBoy* and Lala would like to express their special thanks to Martine Lusardy and Allen S. Weiss, to Patricia Guédot at Gallimard, to Patrick Gyger and La Maison d'Ailleurs à Yverdon, to Thierry Hefti, to Sumiko Watanabe, to Jean Marc Dallanégra and to "Un, Deux...Quatre" art magazine as well as to the whole team of La Halle Saint Pierre.
Design by Lefty© Fondation Tanagra