Monday, December 14, 2009

Hans Bellmer: La Poupée (The Doll)

La Poupée, 1934. Gelatin silver print.
La Poupée, 1936. Handcolored photograph.

Poupée in Hayloft, 1935-6. Gelatin silver print.

The German-Polish-French painter and photographer Hans Bellmer (1902-75) is considered a surrealist by most critics and art historians. Perhaps nowhere in his body of work is it more apparent than the series of photographs, Les Jeux de la Poupée (1934-38). The images were a bold statement of opposition to the Nazi Party and its preoccupation with the perfect body.

The explicit, vulgar positions of his handmade, life-size dolls are suggestive of a number of artistic influences. Bellmer studied perspective and drawing under the tutelage of the German painter George Grosz. Grosz made a number of paintings and drawings of prostitutes, on which he mounted a brutal attack of moral vindictiveness, and his anti-prostitution sentiment is visible in Bellmer's Poupée series. An aspect of coldness and detachment pervades the way in which Bellmer shows the female body.

Additionally, the Paris surrealists influenced Bellmer’s work. The manipulated, abandoned look of Bellmer's Poupée series sums up the surrealist image of woman as "beautiful victim." Many of Bellmer's dolls elegantly portray the physical form of abused woman, devoid of individuality (many do not have heads, and almost all are missing limbs). They may, as with Poupée in Hayloft, call to mind photographs from the scene of a homicide.

But there is also the Surrealist exploration of sexual eroticism. The doll is a jumbled construction of limbs and erogenous areas, and its poses are often pornographic. Bellmer hand-painted many photographs, adding reds and pinks to breasts and thighs to concentrate the viewer’s attention on anatomical detail. He integrates, for example, balls and sockets attached to limbs and torsos in ways that suggest a grotesque.

You wonder if attention to form is possible because you have been desensitized to the initially shocking subject matter, much of which is manifestly the result of violence.

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