Exploring a Fairy Tale for All Ages
While the classic story of Pinocchio—that of the wooden pup- pet who winds up transforming into a flesh-and-blood boy— may seem like a simple fairy tale, for artist Jim Dine the story is much more personal. Ever since seeing the Walt Disney movie as a child, Dine has been fascinated with Pinocchio’s tale of self-discovery and metamorphosis. His latest sculptural offerings, on display until just recently at New York’s PaceWildenstein gallery, provide a glimpse into the personal world of Dine as he explores the ways in which the timeless children’s tale relates not only to his life, but also to the greater world.
And, though Dine acquired an affinity for Pinocchio early on in life, his path to this year’s Pinocchio has been a long one.
Born in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1935, Dine studied at the University of Cincinnati and the Boston Museum School prior to receiving his B.F.A. from Ohio University, Athens, where he later enrolled in graduate studies. After moving to New York in 1958, he gained fame in the 60s as the youngest artist of American Pop. He became a true art world tour-de-force with Happenings, a series of chaotic performance pieces, which in turn led to his now-famed exploration of individual object as metaphor.
Dine contemplated banal objects—a lawnmower, a window, a hat, a wall, a suit, or a robe—from many angles, producing images described as grotesque, brutal, mysterious, and romantic. An intimate investigation and portrayal of a common object has always been Dine’s personal way of questioning and finding his connection to reality and, as an artist who works in a variety of media, his oeuvre encompasses paintings, drawings, assemblages, prints, photography and sculpture.
Of the numerous objects Dine has explored throughout the years, the most significant and pervasive remains the effigy of Pinocchio.
In 1964, the 29-year-old artist found a Pinocchio puppet in a junkshop. Almost instantly, distant childhood memories began surfacing, igniting a profound contemplation within him.Today, the eager eyes, child-like hairdo with a curl on top (sans Disney cap), short European lederhosen and starched white shirt of Dine’s contemporary sculpture echo the time-weathered appearance of the junkshop doll found so many years ago.
In the junkshop Pinocchio, Dine noticed how the frontal figure was remi- niscent of Egyptian sculptures—specifically, the simple, stiff appearance of the child deity Horus from the Ptolemaic period.
But the Egyptian association was just the start. Over time, as he began to study the figure and story of Pinocchio further, Dine realized that Pinocchio is, as he puts it, a “world cultural figure, or a world mythological figure.” A Pinocchio type can be found in many works of art from cultures throughout the ages. With erect body positioning and an inquisitive expression, Pinocchio encapsulates the universal search for individual meaning and purpose in life.
With his latest Pinocchio sculptures, Dine dives deeper to explore such elements of the tale as Pinocchio’s cuteness, his naïve perceptions, his determination, his exploits, his criminal adventures, the wily fox and cat who take advantage of him, those who love him, and, most of all, the awakening of his conscience and how the helpless toy matures with each new encounter. In working out the Pinocchio series, Dine moves beyond the idea of adorable toy and considers the dark side of life that Pinocchio—who is everyman—inevitably experiences. Through pain, suffering, trial and error at the unscrupulous hands of others, Pinocchio finds his path that transforms him from a lifeless, inanimate creature to a realized human being.
For Dine, the story of Pinocchio—originally written in 19th-century Italy by Carlo Collodi as a serial for children—is also a story of an artist’s passion. It follows the adventure of a puppet carved by a lonely woodcutter who pas- sionately wishes that the toy would become a real boy. Pinocchio is potential, the process of creation with all its uncertainties; Gepetto is the realized artist—tireless, patient, and willing to go to great lengths for his beloved cre- ation. Pinocchio’s life from wood to flesh is the soul-searching artistic process: the unknown, unsure, misguided mistakes that result in something miraculous.
Like Dine, Gepetto is the creator who, through great skill, forms a unique work of art. The art that Dine, Gepetto and every artist renders goes through a soul-searching, wrenching process that begins with a formless imperfection and ultimately becomes a perfect entity like no other.
Then something unexpected happens—the realized work of art outlives and outlasts its creator. It is collected, hangs in museums and galleries, or is placed in a garden; it becomes the source of art historical discussions and writ- ings for years to come. The artist, symbolized by old Gepetto, steps into the shadows to watch his younger and more vigorous child—his creation—thrive and bring lasting aesthetic joy for all times. In pursuing the Pinocchio theme, Dine realizes that it is the work of art and the ideas it exudes that live on, as a constant reminder of the artist’s passions in material form.Thus, Gepetto may have been Pinocchio’s creator, but Pinocchio becomes Gepetto’s savior.
Dine’s Pinocchio series coincides with a newly-released book published by Steidl in 2006, which includes original text by Collodi and images by Dine. This year, Dine has been commissioned by the town of Boras, Sweden to cre- ate a thirty-foot sculpture of Pinocchio in patinated cast bronze with acrylic paint—further evidence of Dine’s concept of the universality of the boy-pup- pet and its longevity.
Image: Jim Dine, On Top of the Wood, 2006. Enamel on wood with metal base. Photo by Ellen Labenski. Courtesy PaceWildenstein, New York.