I, Mannequin

Mannequins are typically overlooked. Used as models, they are created to display, not to be displayed themselves. But these anonymous body shapes have an anthropological value, revealing the ideals of a particular time or culture. Line them up and watch as busts heave and regress, hips narrow and flare, and silhouettes curve to reflect economic trends.

Like a modern-day Geppetto, New York–based designer Ralph Pucci decided to give life to these dolls. Pucci joined his parents’ mannequin-repair company in 1976, and was inspired to collaborate with designers to create artworks from these faceless forms. After 40 years, the best of his treasure trove is being displayed at the Museum of Art and Design (MAD) in “Ralph Pucci: The Art of the Mannequin.”

The exhibit features the sculptures from collaborators like Ruben Toledo (“Birdland,” 1988, a surreal form used to display accessories), Kenny Scharf (“Swirley,” 2000, a classic body with a Pop Art face), and Maira Kalman (“Ada,” 1994, a whimsical model based on her illustrated characters). There are 30 of Pucci’s most important works and an on-site recreation of his sculpture studio, where in-house master sculptor Michael Evert will be in residence to demonstrate what goes on behind the scenes.

Pucci has had a remakable effect on the history of mannequins. He adapted the forms to cultural shifts, for example, when excersizing started first becoming trendy, he freed the models from their standard poses to include how a shirt would look mid-serve. He was a visionary about how a mannequin could boost a display, instead of fading into the background. MAD’s exhibit reveals the clever eye behind this revolution in fashion, coming from an unexpected place.