April 16, 2024 #1 Local News, Information and Event Source for the Century City/Westwood areas.

A Puppet Show

Louise Bourgeois, Henriette, 1985 bronze 60 x 13 x 12 inches - Photo Courtesy of Cheim & Read, New York

The Puppet Show exhibition at the Santa Monica Museum of Art explores the imagery, significance and pervasiveness of puppets in contemporary culture. Gathering works of 27 international artists, including Maurizio Cattelan, William Kentridge, Bruce Nauman, Kiki Smith, Kara Walker and Andy Warhol, it presents sculpture and video, photography and cut-outs.  

The show opens with Puppet Storage, a small room full of historic puppets from around the globe, as well as props, pictures and other objects contributed by the participating artists. It is both entrance and backstage to the exhibition, and is a treasure-trove.  Among the most beguiling puppets are a nineteenth-century Sicilian knight marionette that once entertained children and adults in the public squares of Southern Italy with the heroic and amorous exploits of Orlando Furioso; ants, worm and spider puppets created in 1950 for The Ant and the Grasshopper by Rufus and Margo Rose (key figures in the development of American puppetry in theater, film, and television); and a whimsical Abstract Puppet assembled from found objects by Basil Milovsoroff designed for Sindbad’s Eighth Voyage in 1953.

The main body of the exhibition begins with a series of rough wooden boxes enclosing videos which show puppets in action or actors playing with the idea of puppetry. Louise Bourgeois’ Henriette is a sensually rendered bronze puppet leg cast on a human scale and delicately suspended from a string. The 1974 installation Theme for a Major Hit by Dennis Oppenheim has five motor-driven marionettes tap-dancing to the soundtrack “It Ain’t What You Make, It’s What Makes You.†Anne Chu’s Landscape Marionette II is a mountain made of wood, fabric and wire–an unlikely and original interpretation of what constitutes a puppet.

Videos comment on puppetry in playful ways. Christian Jankowski’s Puppet Conference, for example, is a satirical commentary on academic conferences: Various “famous†puppets gather at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh to attend a symposium on “Puppetry on Television.†This video, along with other artworks on display, underscores the ubiquity of puppets on stage, in television, in film, and their ability to illustrate and engage social, political and psychological issues.

The Puppet Show runs until August 9 at Santa Monica Museum of Art in Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Avenue, Santa Monica.  For more information call (310) 586-6488 or go to www.smmoa.org

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