DISTURBING INNOCENCE, curated by Eric Fischl, at the FLAG Art Foundation
By PAUL LASTER, JAN. 2015
Exploring the art world’s fascination with dolls, toys, mannequins, robots and other real life substitutes, artist and guest curator Eric Fischl assembled work by more than 50 like-minded artists—both living and dead—that make use of surrogates to address issues of youth, beauty, transformation, violence, sexuality, identity, gender and domesticity.
Describing it as “genre that has become a global movement,” Fischl began the exhibition with representations of homes, including Will Cotton’s 2000 painting Brittle House, depicting a dwelling made from peanut brittle that plays to our desires, and moves on to images of domesticity, such as Laurie Simmons’ 1979 color photograph New Bathroom/Woman Standing, which uses a toy figure and dollhouse furniture to replicate reality, and Martin Gutierrez’ 2013 inkjet print Real Doll, Raquel 3, which finds the artist eerily playing the role of a sex doll abandoned in the corner of a living room.
Dolls are also the subject matter for photographer Dare Wright, a Canadian-American artist/author who’s famous for her 1957 children’s book The Lonely Doll. Her 1968 photograph Edith And Big Bad Bill: Little Bear To The Rescue shows a female doll tied to a tree that’s being freed by a teddy bear—though without the title one might easily read the image in reverse, as a child being restrained by a bear. Meanwhile, the artistic duo Inez van Lamsweede and Vinoodh Matadin’s 1997 color photo Kirsten, Star portrays a young girl made-up like a porcelain doll.
Sexuality takes center stage in Steve Gianakos 2011 black-and-white painting The Farm Had Been Rescinded Just A Month Earlier, which shows a young woman in a compromising position atop a troth full of pigs, and John Wesley’s 1968 canvas Caryn and Robin, which reveals two nude girls gleefully playing while nearly bumping their private parts.
Fabricated figures are the focus of the Chapman Brothers’ 1997 sculpture Doggy, depicting two girls joined at the waist like Siamese twins that are wearing nothing but sneakers, and John Waters’ 2006 sculpture Playdate, which features baby-like versions of Michael Jackson and Charles Manson looking curiously at one another. Speaking about the piece, Waters said, “Imagine if they ever had met as children. Maybe they might have worked things out and it would have ended better for both of them, but you wouldn’t want either one of them with your children—let's put it that way!"
Other works that feature real people imitating dolls—similar to Inez and Vinoodh’s angelic picture Kirsten, Star—are Aura Rosenberg’s 1996-98 portrait of Lena Dunham as a ventriloquist’s dummy being controlled by her mother (the previously mentioned artist in the exhibition Laurie Simmons) and Loretta Lux’ 2000 digitally enhanced portrait of a young boy in a ruffled collar, set against an imaginary background of cloudy skies, that’s straight out of a Renaissance painting.
In a recent interview in Dazed & Confused, Fischl summarized the exhibition in this way: “Disturbing Innocence is a sword that cuts both ways. Is the exhibition challenging and disruptive to our notions of childhood innocence, or is it positing that childhood is, in itself, disturbed? The experience of each artwork in the show pulls the viewer in a variety of directions—some humorous, playful and tender—some not so much.”
A vibrant show with lots of challenging imagery, Disturbing Innocence opened a vein of psychological art making that runs deep back into modernism yet revealed by example that it is as expressively vital today.WM
Paul Laster is a writer, editor, independent curator, artist and lecturer. He is a New York desk editor at ArtAsiaPacific and a contributing editor at Whitehot and artBahrain. He was the founding editor of Artkrush.com and Artspace.com and art editor of Flavorpill.com and Russell Simmons's OneWorld Magazine; started TheDailyBeast.com's art section; and worked as a photojournalist for Artnet.com and Art in America. He is a frequent contributor to Time Out New York, New York Observer, Modern Painters, ArtPulse and ArtInfo.com.view all articles from this author