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Pulling Strings in Houston

Dennis Oppenheim, “Theme for a Major Hit”, 1974. Motor driven marionettes, wood, cloth, felt, soundtrack, tape player, and external  speakers. Courtesy of the artist.

Opening today at the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, The Puppet Show brings together contemporary artworks that explore the imagery of puppets in sculpture, video and photography. The Puppet Show takes as a historic point of departure one of the first episodes of avant-garde art history: Alfred Jarry’s 1896 play Ubu Roi that was conceived as a puppetshow. Considered by many to be the first dramatic work of the theater of the absurd, Roi (translated as “King Ubu” or “King Turd”) is an allegory of anarchy that uses farce and scatological humor to comment on art, literature, politics, and the ruling class.

The exhibition opens with an installation dubbed “Puppet Storage.” The plywood structure is filled with pictures, props, and other source material collected from artists studios as well as a historic collection of puppets from the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry at the University of Connecticut selected by the Ballard’s director Dr. John Bell, an internationally renowned puppeteer and historian of puppet theater. Art21 artists Mike Kelley (Season 1), Louise Bourgeois, Kiki SmithKara Walker (all Season 2), Laurie Simmons, and Pierre Huyghe (both Season 4) are included in the roster of more than 25 participants.

The Puppet Show is co-curated by Ingrid Schaffner, Senior Curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania, University, and Carin Kuoni, Director, The Vera List Center for Art and Politics at The New School.

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