The Puppet Show

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Press:Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia (May 1, 2008)
Publication Date:2008-05-01
Author Name:Michael Taylor


At first glance, The Puppet Show seems a flip title. 
Organized by Philadelphia ICA Senior Curator Ingrid Schaffner and Carin Kuoni, this exhibition catalogue focuses--with both humor and gravity--on the surprisingly prodigious amount of puppet imagery in contemporary art.
It takes as its historic point of departure one of the first episodes of avant-garde art history: Alfred Jarry's 1896 puppet play Ubu Roi, which the South African artist William Kentridge, in collaboration with the Handspring Puppet Company, has adapted into an allegory of apartheid.
Other puppets are featured in works from more than 30 well-established, international artists, including Anne Chu, Terence Gower, Pierre Huyghe, Christian Jankowski, Laurie Simmons, Kiki Smith and Kara Walker.
This volume also looks at puppets in Modern art and popular culture--from Sophie Tauber Arp’s Dada marionettes to the Internet phenomenon of the “sockpuppet”--a well-known person’s fake online persona, created in order to boost public opinion.


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Comment List (Total:2)

  •     Ingrid Schaffner of the ICA in Philadelphis joined forces with the New School's top curator, Caryn Kuoni, to put together a striking exhibition a little over two years ago. This book was the accompaniment to the show, and a fascinating read in its own right.Various scholars, critics, musicians and poets come together to explain earlier scholarship and to add their own spin on the question of modernism and its thorny relation to puppets. Everyone seems convinced, especialle Schaffner and Michael R. Taylor, of the primacy of Alfred Jarry's Ubu plays in this lineage. (I kept thinking that they weren't convincing me, that there must have been other puppet material predating the era of Jarry, and yet there's no denying that the particular UBU Roi strain had powerful consequences, and perhaps gave rise to the especially seamy, dark, and perverse reading of contemporary art that THE PUPPET SHOW gave us.) I think also of Baudelaire and his "philosophy of toys," in which he divided human beings into two groups, those who as children took apart their toys and dolls, and those who left them alone, reverent and abashed.Puppets have their appeal to children first, or maybe we should say children are the first victims of puppets and experience horror firsthand by imagining little homunculi coming alive, miniature versions of their own fears. Adults have an attraction and a repulsion to puppetry as they do to their own mortalities. Lavish illustrations dot this compendium, and you will see some godforsaken puppets! (Not only puppets, but their opposite, actual humans acting like puppets to express, as nothing else could, the terrible inertia of the puppet at rest.) (Or the madness of the puppet or dummy, which the editors indicate as the surrealist unveiling of pure id, and a vehicle for fascism, political and emotional--Jarry again.)
  •     A fascinating and eclectic collection of essays and photographs based on the puppet.

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