A Strange Portrait of a Former Lover – 一个陌生情人的肖像

Picture Piece /

By Matthew McLean

18 Sep 2018

Picture Piece /

A Strange Portrait of a Former Lover

By Matthew McLean

18 Sep 2018

After the dissolution of their turbulent relationship, Oskar Kokoschka commissioned an accurately proportioned re-creation of Alma Mahler in 1918

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A Strange Portrait of a Former Lover - 一个陌生情人的肖像

Oskar Kokoschka’s Alma Doll as Venus, made by Hermine Moos, 1919. Courtesy: Getty

Like a child, it took nine months to make the Alma doll: the full-scale, accurately proportioned re-creation of Alma Mahler commissioned in 1918 by the artist Oskar Kokoschka after the dissolution of their turbulent relationship. When it arrived in February 1919, the sight of the thing was so disturbing, kokoschka later recalled to the photographer Brassaï, that his butler promptly suffered a stroke.

The butler’s reaction is not surprising. Made of sawdust sewn inside swanskin, the feathers still attached, the doll is a beastly beauty. In one photograph, she – ‘it’? – sits cross-legged, one arm raised, like a Yeti in meditation; in another, a child’s toy rests in her hand, somehow calling to mind the poor creature of James Whale’s film Frankenstein (1931), pensively clutching a flower. Even when rendered in paintings such as Woman in Blue (1919) – one of approximately 33 works for which kokoschka used the doll as a model – she has a lolloping, ungainly quality that resists the sexualization implied by her (absurdly) bare breasts. In another photo, she is stretched out languidly, resplendent in her monstrosity: simultaneously Leda and the swan. 

A century later, when women worldwide have declared that they are #notsurprised by widespread sexual harassment in the art world, it’s hard to think about the Alma doll separately from Mahler’s testimony of Kokoschka’s borderline-abusive behaviour and her own neglected musical aspirations. In 2018, the Alma doll offers itself as a suitable emblem for the whole, shoddy spectrum of Western art history’s imbrication in gender struggle – the silent muse ne plus ultra.

Yet, in a way, this reading silences another woman: Hermine Moos, the doll’s fabricator. Beyond being Mahler’s onetime seamstress, Moos was an exhibiting artist in her own right, and friends with the avant-garde dollmaker Lotte Pritzel. as the scholar Bonnie roos emphasizes, it was Moos – quite independently of her patron – who chose the swanskin that lends the Alma doll its utterly abject quality. In this reading, the Alma doll is as much Moos’s project as it is Kokoschka’s and, as such, can be seen as an artwork that both indulges and frustrates his desire for total sexual control: bringing forth the fantasy of woman as pliant plaything and, by the same stroke, unravelling it. 

‘Art’, wrote the artist Mike Kelley (who included an image of the Alma doll in a visual essay compiled to accompany his 1993 exhibition of figurative sculpture, ‘The Uncanny’), ‘is creation in response to lack.’ Walking through ‘Like Life’ at the Met Breuer in New York this year, an exhibition which explored colour and verisimilitude in an amazing array of substitutes for the human body – sculptures, yes, but also waxworks, artists’ dummies, religious icons, death masks – it was difficult to disagree. I wonder if the Alma doll would feel at home in that company. We’ll never know, of course, as, after a party one night, Kokoschka took her into the garden and beheaded her. 

Published in frieze, issue 198, October 2018, with the title ‘The Alma Mahler Doll’.

Matthew McLean

Matthew McLean is a writer and editor based in London, UK.

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Oskar Kokoschka
Alma Mahler
Matthew McLean
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图片/由Matthew McLean 18 SEP 2018图片/一个奇怪的肖像前情人Matthew McLean18九月2018在他们的动荡关系解散后,Oskar Kokoschka委托了Alma Mahler在1918人身上的精确比例再创造。Oskar Kokoschka的阿尔玛娃娃作为金星,由HeMurm MOOS制作,1919。礼貌:盖蒂像个孩子,花了九个月的时间才制造出阿尔玛娃娃:Alma Mahler在1918年被艺术家Oskar Kokoschka委托后,在其动荡的关系解散后,进行了全面、精确比例的再创造。1919年2月到达时,这景象非常令人不安,Kokoschka后来向摄影师Brassa回忆说,他的管家立即中风。管家的反应并不奇怪。木屑缝在天鹅皮里面,羽毛还在,这个娃娃是个野兽般的美人。在一张照片里,她——“它”?–盘腿坐着,一只胳膊举起,像冥想中的雪人;在另一只胳膊上,一个孩子的玩具放在她的手里,不知怎么地唤起人们对詹姆斯·怀尔的电影《弗兰肯斯坦》(1931)中那个可怜的小家伙的思念,他正怀念地抓着一朵花。即使在《蓝色女人》(1919年)这样的绘画作品中,柯柯什卡用这个娃娃做模特时,她依然具有宽大的、笨拙的品质,能够抵抗她裸露的乳房所暗示的性化。在另一张照片中,她懒洋洋地伸展着,在她的怪物里显得光彩夺目:同时是Leda和天鹅。一个世纪后,当全世界的女性都宣称她们对艺术界普遍存在的性骚扰并不感到惊讶时,很难想象阿尔玛娃娃被分开了。Y来自马勒的证词柯克西卡的边缘性辱骂行为和她自己被忽视的音乐愿望。2018年,阿尔玛娃娃成为西方艺术史上在性别斗争中捏造的一系列拙劣作品的适当象征——沉默的缪斯加上极端。然而,在某种程度上,这种解读使另一个女人沉默:Hermine Moos,娃娃的制造者。穆斯不仅是马勒以前的女裁缝,她自己也是一个展览艺术家,她和前卫的洋娃娃制造商洛特·普里策尔是朋友。正如学者邦妮·鲁斯所强调的,穆斯——完全独立于她的赞助人——选择了斯旺斯金,这让阿尔玛娃娃具有了绝对低劣的品质。在这篇文章中,阿尔玛娃娃既是穆斯的作品,也是柯柯什卡的作品,因此可以看作是一件既放纵又挫败他完全控制性欲的艺术品:把女人的幻想变成柔顺的玩具,用同样的笔触,解开它。艺术家迈克·凯利(1993年为了配合他的比喻雕塑《神秘》展览而编撰的一篇视觉文章中包括了阿尔玛娃娃的形象)写道,“是因缺乏而创作的。”在令人惊叹的人体替代品——雕塑,是的,但是蜡像,艺术家的假人,宗教图标,死亡面具——中探索色彩和真实性的ition很难不同意。我不知道阿尔玛娃娃是否会在那家公司里感到自在。当然,我们永远不会知道,因为在一天晚上的聚会之后,Kokoschka把她带到花园里砍了头。Matthew McLean是英国伦敦的一名作家和编辑。图片/奥斯卡柯克西卡阿尔玛马勒马修麦克莱恩图片


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