I suppose not everyone thinks of store mannequins as art, but I do.
Photograph by Eugene Atget, Boulevard De Strasbourg 1912
I’ve been a bit obsessed with mannequins - contemporary hardworking sculptures - since I was in grade school in the sixties. One day, I must have been about thirteen, I found my way down to the display department in Bloomingdale’s in NYC. It was like wandering into Surrealist heaven. I don’t remember how long they let me snoop around before they booted me out. But not before I got the chance to see all those arms, legs and heads and torsos on their way to becoming the next fabulous window or floor display.
My first mannequin, Ruth, on the right, with her friend, Dianne DeWitt by Adel Rootstein. Photo by Liza Cowan
I bought my first mannequin around four years ago from a local dress shop that was going out of business. She was band aid pink, but a few coats of gesso and white paint made took care of that. My collection has grown to seven mannequins. They sit in the display window, or inside alongside the art. They pose for ads and signs and merchandise. They are enormously fun to dress up, like huge dolls for grownups, and they are always a pleasure to be with.
Dianne Dewitt Mannequin by Rootstein. Photo ©Liza Cowan
Dianne Dewitt by Adel Rootstein. Photo by Liza Cowan
I was lucky to find a source for an amazing Adel Rootstein mannequin, the beautiful Dianne Dewitt. When I first brought her home my children were so freaked out by her blank eyes that I quickly painted in iris and pupils. I pasted on a nose jewel and earrings, and gave her some subtle gray lipstick. Otherwise, she is as I found her. I often change the mannequin's clothing. Sometimes it fits the theme of an exhibit, or the season, or just a whim. I usually shop for them at thrift stores. Sometimes they wear my old clothes (which are huge on them) or, as below, I wrap them in fabric and scarves.
Rootstein's Dewitt with Ralph Pucci/Maira Kalman little girl. Photo by Liza Cowan
The mannequins have all kinds of jobs around the gallery. Here, in a traditional occupation, they are showing off hats by Burlington milliner Jude Mulle, in the Holiday '06 Artifact show. Dianne is joined by one of my five Ralph Pucci International mannequins. This little girl is based on the work of Maira Kalman.
PSAW postcard. Ralph Pucci/Maira Kalman mannequin. Photo and design by Liza Cowan
Mannequins were made to work, and work they do. Here the Pucci/Kalman woman posed for a Pine Street Art Works advertising postcard. I wrapped her in sari silk, and photographed her against a black backdrop. She has also posed for newspaper and magazine ads.
Male mannequins by Ralph Pucci based on drawings by Maira Kalman. Photo ©Liza Cowan
These are my "boyakins." Also from Ralph Pucci/Maira Kalman. Here they pose for a picture. I'd like to say that they work hard, but they are mainly just pretty boys whose job it is to dramatize the art they sit next to. Sometimes one of them will sit on my desk.
Ralph Pucci/Maira Kalman mannequin against mid 20th Century botanical chart. Photo Liza Cowan
Ralph Pucci/Maira Kalman mannequin. Outdoor sign and Flashbag handbag. Photo by Liza Cowan
This Pucci/Kalman mannequin works as hard as the Kalman woman. He has worked as a sign model, and I put this image on a handmade handbag by Flashbags. He and his sister have a sassy little attitude that always makes me laugh They are source of delight to the children who come to the gallery and want to play with them. I totally understand, and as long as they are careful, I let them.