In 1926 Exter designed a number of marionettes which, unlike the Costume model of a Martian guard for the film 'Aelita', are specifically articulated for use in a performance. It is generally accepted that the marionettes were made to take the place of actors in a film directed by the Danish film-maker Urban Gad (1879-1947), a project that was never realised.1
At Exter's exhibition at Galerie Der Sturm, Berlin, in October 1927, the catalogue lists work done 'for a film with marionettes'. However, in an article on Exter's marionettes published the following year, Louis Lozowick made no mention of the film project and assumed that the marionettes were to be used in a conventional fashion, simply stating that the creation of the marionettes was the logical outcome of an interest in painting and the theatre and intended as a synthesis of both.2 The article also provided a description of a marionette performance in which 'forty-odd marionettes participate in a carnivalesque play after the manner of the commedia dell'arte, with the addition of a modern background for contrast'.3 The scenario takes Punch and Colombine to New York, where Punch is arrested. While the reliability of the synopsis cannot be verified, it does account for the distinctive mechanical appearance of the two marionettes in the Gallery. These not only bear American images and advertising, but in photographs of their original installation at Gallerie Der Sturm in 1927 they are placed together with two other marionettes, Robot and American policeman.4 Publicity man carries images of the American clowns Emmett Kelly and Arthur Burson, a contrast to the familiar conventions of the 'commedia dell'arte' figures that make up the cast. Advertisements for a Goodrich tyre and the United States Line that decorate Publicity man also underscore the notion of travel to far-away places. The Sandwich man touts advertisements for Carnation Milk and the International Theatre Exposition held at the Steinway Building, New York, from 27 February to 22 March 1926, which included works by Exter.
Michael Lloyd & Michael Desmond European and American Paintings and Sculptures 1870-1970 in the Australian National Gallery 1992 p.152.
- Urban Gad, one of the leading exponents of Danish cinema, enjoyed great success with his romantic melodramas, often scripted by him, between 1910 and 1926. He worked frequently in Germany (1912-22), where he may have met Exter through Yakov Protazanov, the director of Aelita. Gad ceased to make films in 1926.
- Louis Lozowick, 'Alexandra Exter's Marionettes', Theatre Arts Monthly, vol. 12, no. 7, July 1928, pp.515-17, reprinted in Alexander Exter: Marionettes Created 1926, Leonard Hutton Galleries, New York, 1974, pp.26-9 (exhibition catalogue).
- ibid; 'Forty-odd marionettes participate in a carnivalesque play after the manner of the commedia dell'arte with the addition of a modern background for contrast. Punch and Judy are engaged in one of their eternal quarrels. In a fit of temper he throws her into the Venice canal. Behold Colombine and Punch love-struck at first sight. Chivalresque duels for the lady. Punch is favored by her and also by the wind which carries the two of them to New York. Here Colombine's eyes grow big at surrounding riches and Punch turns thief to satisfy her craving for jewels. Arrest is followed by escape. At various intervals there are lively carnival crowds, meeting, separating, gesticulating.' Although Lozowick suggests there were nearly forty marionettes, this is difficult to confirm. The catalogue of the 1927 exhibition at the Galerie Der Sturm is of little assistance in determining the exact number, but judging from photographs of the installation they appear to number about twenty.
- It is also notable that the gallery's marionettes bear a resemblance to the costume designed by Picasso for the American manager in the ballet Parade, staged by Les Ballets Russes de Serge Diaghilev in Paris in 1917.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010