Art History Hans Bellmer

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  • Topic: Doll, Dolls, Body Politic
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  • Published : July 12, 2009
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Hans Bellmer
Discuss the way in which Bellmer’s work can be seen as a paradoxical, namely as both a virulent contemporary critique of a National-Socialist body politic, and a personal escape to a lost adolescent world of fantasy, in the face of that very body politic and its repressions.

“The body is like a phrase that invites us to disjoint it.” – Hans Bellmer.[1]

In December 1934, in the Surrealist journal Minotaure, a two-page article introduced to French readers the provocative and erotic fantasies of the German-born artist, draftsman, illustrator and essayist, Hans Bellmer.

Deformed images of the body (especially of the female figure) were not uncommon in twentieth-century art. However, the Parisan Surrealist works of the late 1920s through early 1940s, which, with their violent dismantling and erotically charged distortion of the human form surpassed others in their level of distinctiveness. As such, the Surrealist fascination with the automaton, especially with the element of disturb as produced by their irresolute animate/inanimate status, laid the path for the enthusiastic reception in France for Hans Bellmer’s mutated, often mutilated dolls. Working in similar idea of the Surrealist to see Woman (refer to A. Annex) “as an object of desire is conditioned by the desiring man, so that she is ultimately a series of phallic projections, progressing from the detail of the woman to the ensemble, such that the woman’s finger, hand, arm, or leg could be the sex organ of the man”[2] His works of art thus found immediate acceptance in France – the overwhelmingly male heterosexist Surrealist avant-garde.

In the article, photographs (refer to B. Annex) Bellmer had taken of a life-sized, self constructed mannequin are grouped around the title “Poupée (Doll): Variations on the Montage of an Articulated Minor.” The doll here is of Bellmer’s own assemblage, made of wood, flax fiber, plaster and glue, captured in its stages of construction in his studio, laid on a bare mattress or a lacy cloth. Seductive and suggestive props such as a black veil sometimes accompany the doll. This is Bellmer’s first construction and it is already indicative of his continued preoccupation with little girls as subjects for his art; his constant treatment of the dolls that he make and photograph – either portraying them as the martyrs or as the victims of a violent act; and in portraying how various events of his life influences his works.

Author of Hans Bellmer: The Anatomy of Anxiety, Sue Taylor commented once that there are “no claims for a linear causality between Bellmer’s work, his life and the larger public sphere.” ‘No linear causality’, that I would agree, however, that Bellmer’s doll photographs were made immediately following the Nazi’s rise of power in Germany means that the influence of the socio-political situation of the period on his art is not to be undermined. Author Hal Foster[3] has even interpreted the photographs’ issues with sexuality, death and insanity as Bellmer’s attack on what he referred to as the loved, beautified and idealized body (especially of the women in contemporary advertising) under National Socialism. His attack and violence acted out on the dolls of his creation also mirror to a certain degree, the sadistic attitude of the Nazis.

The personal life events and experiences of Hans Bellmer is however, perhaps a far more influencing factor in his art. The construction of the first doll can be related immediately to the illness of his father, a strict Nazi-like figure of the household and who was often said to be the object of homoerotic desire for Bellmer; the illness and eventual death of his first wife; the reappearance of his beautiful teenage cousin, Ursula Naguschewski in his life who became his object of fascination; his attendance at a performance of Jacques Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffmann, in which the main protagonist falls hopelessly and tragically in love with the...
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