NEW YORK — They’re not just rigid forms for window display. Even stripped down, mannequins can be mirrors of society, anthropomorphic objects of fascination and works of art, all at once.
The Museum of Arts and Design makes the case for the mannequin mystique with the show “Ralph Pucci: Art of the Mannequin,” which runs from March 30 to Aug. 30. It will cover 30 years of Pucci mannequins with 30 displayed across the 3,000-square-foot second floor of MAD, located at 2 Columbus Circle.
“Mannequins are like sculpture but not like sculpture. They’re like portraits of us, but not like portraits. They have an uncanny, alluring, quasi-human quality,” said Glenn Adamson, the director of MAD since fall 2013.
In a city filled with museums and galleries, MAD strives to be distinctive and sometimes aims at the fashion industry to raise its profile. Following Pucci, there will be a contemporary watch show this fall. “We tend to focus on contemporary programming with an emphasis on process and giving the audience that encounter with creativity,” Adamson said. “We make it a central feature. I’m not saying other museums aren’t interested in creativity and often look at process, but here it’s much more our central focus. We look at any form of creativity, but we are always interested in the process part of it and the skills involved,” particularly those not traditionally represented in a museum, like mannequin makers.
MAD will tell the naked truth about mannequins. “They’re unclothed. We are not using the mannequins in their normal role to show off garments,” Adamson said. “The mannequins are exposed but they are also very pure in a funny way. They are about a gesture or a pose. Ralph plays with that a lot.”
Some of the mannequins are very detailed, or muscular, like Greek sculptures. Some are whimsical. Some appear gracefully lithe. Pucci, founded as a mannequin repair shop before evolving into a mannequin maker and later an eclectic showroom including high-end furniture, lighting and art, has collaborated with fashion designers, illustrators and supermodels to design mannequins or pose for them. Andrée Putman designed Art Deco-inspired mannequins manufactured by Pucci for Barneys New York; Maira Kalman created “feel-good” mannequins for department store casual work areas, and Lowell Nesbitt created Robert Mapplethorp-inspired mannequins resembling Greek and Roman sculptures. Pucci also partnered with Kenny Scharf, Anna Sui and Patrick Naggar, among others. Veruschka, considered the original supermodel, and Christy Turlington in a lotus position to capture the yoga craze, became Pucci subjects, to suggest women of strength and wellness. “The fact that these mannequins [among the many displayed] are casted by hand with special finishes is very relevant to the fashion world,”Adamson said. Saks Fifth Avenue will display Pucci mannequins in its windows to support the show.
As part of the exhibit, there will be a simulation of Pucci’s workshop, on 44 West 18th Street, with demonstrations by Michael Evert, Pucci’s sculptor. He’ll create a bust of a head every other week using as subjects Sui, Mary McFadden, Vladimir Kagan, Isabel Toledo and Linda Fargo. There will also be a jewelry installation by Isabel and Ruben Toledo, who have worked with Pucci on mannequins, furniture and illustrations.
“I always think of our mannequins as capturing moments in time,” Pucci said. “We created a mannequin for Diane von Furstenberg to celebrate her 40-year retrospective of her wrap dress. She’s an independent, powerful, passionate woman, so we had to come up with a mannequin consistent to her image.
“One of my biggest successes was doing action sport mannequins, mannequins doing handstands, stretching or jogging. This was in the late Seventies when running began to get popular and people were really exercising. The handstand was a good way to show jeans,” he added.