ICA will be closed for installation December 24, 2018 through January 31, 2019.
Jan 18–Mar 30, 2008

The Puppet Show


The Puppet Show is a group exhibition that looks at the imagery of puppets in contemporary art. International in scope, The Puppet Show brings together 30 artists and several generations, as reflected by works that range from a 1974 installation by Dennis Oppenheim to a new animation by the Swedish artist Nathalie Djurberg. The exhibition concentrates on sculpture, video and photography. Some of the works involve actual puppets (marionettes, shadow puppets, hand puppets) and artists performing as puppeteers. Other images evoke topics associated with puppetry (manipulation, miniaturization, agency, control). Collectively these works show puppets to be a provocative and relevant imagery—one that moves deeply into social, political, and psychological terrains.

The Puppet Show takes as a historic point of departure one of the first episodes of avant-garde art history: Alfred Jarry’s 1896 play Ubu Roi that was conceived as a puppet show. Ubu’s reign continues with the work of the South African artist William Kentridge in collaboration with the Handspring Puppet Company. More recently, puppets have taken hold of pop consciousness by way of films, theater, computer games and animation. On a more political note, current events and national leadership raise questions of agency that cogently relate to puppets. Together with these collective points of reference, The Puppet Show poses a larger cultural question: why do puppets matter now?

At ICA, the exhibition opens with a discrete structure dubbed “Puppet Storage,” filled with pictures, props, and other source material collected from artists’ studios. It will feature a historic collection of puppets from the collection of the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry at the University of Connecticut, selected by the Institute’s director, Dr. John Bell, an internationally renowned puppeteer and historian of puppet theater. Artist Terence Gower has designed the structure, staging the entire installation with reference to the uncanny, theatrical displacements of scale, and the backstage world of the theater.

Initiated by Ingrid Schaffner, senior curator, the exhibition is co-curated with Carin Kuoni, director of the Vera List Center for Art and Politics at The New School, New York.

This exhibition premiered at ICA and traveled to the Santa Monica Museum of Art, California; The Contemporary Museum, Honolulu, Hawaii; the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, Texas and the Frye Art Museum, Seattle, Washington.
Guy Ben-NerNayland BlakeLouise BourgeoisMaurizio CattelanAnne ChuNathalie DjurbergTerence GowerHandspring Puppet CompanyPierre HuygheChristian JankowskiMike KelleyWilliam KentridgeCindy LoehrPaul McCarthyAnnette MessagerMatt MullicanBruce NaumanDennis OppenheimLaurie SimmonsKiki SmithSurvival Research LaboratoryKara WalkerCharlie WhitePuppets 1

Puppets 1

Puppets 2

Puppets 2

Puppets 3

Puppets 3

Puppets 4

Puppets 4

Puppets 5

Puppets 5
Books & Editions

This fully illustrated catalogue accompanies the exhibition with essays by the curators Carin Kuoni and Ingrid Schaffner, and contributing authors John Thomas Bell, Terence Gower, Jena Osman, John Pemberton, Jane Taylor, Michael Taylor, and Allen Weiss. An annotated checklist of the works in the exhibition, and a picture record of the contents of “Puppet Storage” are included.

ISBN 9780884541134
Publication Date
Intitute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
"ICA acknowledges the generous sponsorship of Barbara B. & Theodore R. Aronson; Etant donnes: The FrenchAmerican Fund for Contemporary Art; Susquehanna Foundation; The Toby Fund; The Bandier Family Foundation; Goldberg Foundation; Sotheby’s; Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation; The Chodorow Exhibition Initiative Fund; and the Philadelphia Exhibitions Initiative, a program of the Philadelphia Center for Arts and Heritage, funded by The PEW Charitable Trusts, and Administered by University of the Arts. Additional funding has been provided by The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, The Dietrich Foundation, Inc., the Overseers Board for the Institute of Contemporary Art, friends and members of ICA, and the University of Pennsylvania.

The Emily and Jerry Spiegel Fund to Support Contemporary Culture and Visual Arts has been created to support an innovative, interdisciplinary approach to education that will enhance collaboration at the University of Pennsylvania among academic departments and cultural institutions. Spiegel Fund Events are designed to raise the level of conversation among Penns students and faculty about art—particularly art that crosses disciplinary and cultural boundaries. The Spiegel Fund is administered by the Universitys Provost Office."