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 White