The Puppet Show
International in scope, the exhibition brings together works by 28 contemporary artists who explore the imagery of puppets in sculpture, film, video, time-based media, animation, and 2D work. Participating artists include: Guy Ben-Ner, Nayland Blake, Louise Bourgeois, Maurizio Cattelan, Anne Chu, Nathalie Djurberg, Terence Gower, Dan Graham, Christian Jankowski, Mike Kelley, William Kentridge, Cindy Loehr, Annette Messager, Paul McCarthy, Matt Mullican, Bruce Nauman, Dennis Oppenheim, Philippe Parreno and Rirkrit Tiravanija, Thomas Schütte, Doug Skinner and Michael Smith, Laurie Simmons, Kiki Smith, Survival Research Laboratory, Kara Walker, and Charlie White.
The Puppet Show takes as its historic point of departure a great work of European avant-garde art history: Alfred Jarry’s 1896 play Ubu Roi, which was originally conceived as a puppet show. The despotic King, who strode on stage roaring the French scatological word “merdre,” is the perfect source for all puppet allegories of grotesque government and acts of puppet transgression. More recently, puppets have taken hold of popular consciousness. They show up on stage, on television, in film, and even online, where assuming a fake identity to garner public opinion is called “sock-puppeting.” Seen in correspondence with these pop culture images, the works in The Puppet Show advance the question: why do puppets matter now?
The Puppet Show installation includes works by participating artists as well as a collection of historic puppets, who are housed in Puppet Storage—the exhibition’s simultaneous entry and “backstage” or unconsciousness. Some works in the show involve puppets as figures (marionettes, shadow puppets, ventriloquist dummies). In others, artists perform as puppeteers. Others still evoke such topics associated with puppetry (manipulation, miniaturization, and control).
Perhaps it is the puppet’s power as an allegorical object that makes it so relevant and liberating. In a time when communication seems increasingly mediated and individual agency diminished, puppets abstract the dramas, mysteries, anxieties, and personas we might all project onto a shared stage. As Los Angeles is home to an extraordinary community of artists at the forefront of experimental and avant-garde puppetry, it is an ideal venue for this investigation into puppetry’s cultural, political, and psychological terrains.