Lynne Yamamoto, Silhouettes (detail), 1998-2011, silk-tissue paper and steel pins.

Paper Doll


March 30 to June 10, 2012
Opening Reception: Friday, March 30 at 8 p.m.
Talk/Tour: Friday, March 30 at 7 p.m. with curator Anne Koval and artists Ed Pien and Jeannie Thib

Paper Doll takes as its point of departure a rare, archival collection of hand-made paper dolls and doll clothes. Created by the American poet Sylvia Plath in her youth, they show her early skill as a visual artist and designer. This exhibition provides a space for the interplay between the Plath material and the works of seven contemporary artists. Much of this new artwork conceptualizes child’s play as a fantasy world remembered, recreated, and transformed. The themes of childhood, play, and the cutout are given new materiality and meaning by the artists included in this exhibition.

Although historically regarded as ephemera, the paper doll operates within a feminine narrative, often embodying the interior worlds of fantasy and play. Much of the history is oral, a lost or often forgotten aspect of child’s play, dating back several hundred years. The paper doll provided a cheap toy for children that took off during the war years, concurrent with the rise of the cult of celebrity. By 1943, the Mills Brothers’ recording of Johnny Black’s Paper Doll topped the Billboard singles charts for three months. Within two years, Plath, at the age of 12, was making these paper dolls and outfits. Although not widely known, these paper dolls tell a remarkable story about Plath and her life-long interest in art and design.

The show is designed to create a dynamic within the gallery where the works of art connect by theme, materiality, or the concept of play. Many of the artists explore the simple yet complex spatial and temporal dimensionality of the cutout in different mediums. Meaning is often shifted depending on the scale or use of material. The show includes an early film by Cindy Sherman, delicate miniatures by Cybèle Young, large-scale steel cut dresses by Barb Hunt, embroideries by Anna Torma, two new installed pieces by Jeannie Thib and Ed Pien, and the ephemeral paper doll chains of Lynne Yamamoto.

In the spirit of A Joseph Cornell Exhibition for Children, held in 1972, the exhibition Paper Doll is designed to encourage children of all ages to view the work on display while being mindful of the delicate and sometimes fragile nature of the installation.

Curated by Anne Koval, Paper Doll is organized and circulated by the Owens Art Gallery, with support from the Canada Council for the Arts.