The year was 2001. Supermodel Christy Turlington was starting to fashion her own clothing line, designed to be worn while practicing yoga. Given that yoga was still foreign to most Americans, retailers had no idea how to show her garments. The typical mannequin was anything but flexible. Yet there was one mannequin manufacturer whose models were different. Back in the late ’70s, Ralph Pucci had begun challenging the staid tradition of ladylike mannequins by capturing women in action. He posed models jogging and diving and doing handstands, embodying the new activewear zeitgeist. So why not coax mannequins into yoga poses? Pucci got to work. When Christy Turlington’s yoga line launched, department stores were filled with mannequins in the lotus position.
Pucci makes mannequins that demand to be noticed. And a new exhibition at the Museum of Arts and Design gives them their due, exhibiting more than thirty of his most charismatic models. For instance, there’s his Olympian Goddess, an androgynous gold-toned mannequin built in 1986 to flaunt brash Reagan-era careerwear, and there’s Dolly, a mannequin with an eye patch made in 1997 to sport Anna Sui’s tough-girl style. There are also examples of Pucci’s many artistic collaborations, such as Swirley, a pointy-headed one-eyed character created by Kenny Scharf in 2000. There’s a long tradition of artistic infatuation with mannequins. The Surrealists routinely used them in sculpture. (The most notorious example is Salvador Dali’s 1938 Rainy Taxi, an installation inside a car involving two mannequins and a sprinkler.) More recently, Charles Ray has made sculptures imitating mannequins, satirical works that critique commercial standards of beauty.
Pucci’s mannequins come from the opposite end of the spectrum, driven by business and manufactured for commerce. However there is an argument to be made that they beat both Ray and Dali at their own game. Mannequins such asOlympian Goddess (and Pucci’s size-sixteen Birdie) have seeded the marketplace with alternatives to the ‘average’ body type vaunted by fashionistas. And finding plaster yogis all over a department store is surely more surrealistically jarring than seeing yet another Surrealist sculpture in a Surrealist exhibition.