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Ralph Pucci's Mannequins Come Alive

Watching a Ralph Pucci mannequin being constructed is a lot like watching a human body decompose in reverse. No need to find a fresh corpse to test that comparison, there’s a time-lapse video at the Museum of Arts and Design that shows exactly how it’s done (the mannequin making, not the carcass rotting). It’s part of the museum’s new exhibit featuring the work of Ralph Pucci’s almost 40-year career as a mannequin maker who revolutionized the industry with a constantly evolving aesthetic that has drawn inspiration and collaborators from what seems like every creative field imaginable.

Of course it’s longtime collaborator Michael Evert who does the physical molding of the mannequins, the body-building if you will. I asked Pucci if he’s ever tried to sculpt his own mannequins and he quickly laughed off the idea. “Oh my god no! It’s funny, I can hardly put a lightbulb in. But I have ideas, and I like to collaborate with designers. And when I seen an idea or I see something, I think I know how to translate it to make it available to my audience in every sculpture.”

The list of Pucci’s collaborators pulls from some unexpected places. French interior and product designer Andrée Putman worked with Pucci from early on in his career. He also has frequently worked with fashion designers like Ruben Toledo and Diane von Furstenberg,who drew inspiration from Terra Cotta warriors for her mannequin. And then there are the whimsical figures born from Pucci’s partnership with illustrator Maira Kalman that began when Pucci thought that there was something to be found from the picture books he was reading his kids.

“It’s been a little bit of everything,” Pucci said of his inspirations. “You have to have your eye on the fashion world. You have to have your eye on modern art. You have to have your eye on music. You have to have your eye on modern dance, and you have to have your eye on architecture. You blend it all together and hopefully you’ll come up with an idea.”

The row of mannequins on display at the MAD exhibit shows off the truth of Pucci’s approach. The product of his collaboration with model and artist Veruschka looks like it was caught on the set of the music video for The Bangle’s ‘Walk Like An Egyptian,’ which makes perfect sense as Veruschka drew inspiration from Egyptian and African art and her own 1967 Egypt-themed photo shoot with Richard Avedon for Vogue.

Pucci has some sensible words of advice for young artists who’d like to follow in his footsteps and find success in any creative field. Namely, don’t get stuck looking for inspiration in just one place. “You can’t just come in and say, ‘I love fashion,’” he said. “In my opinion, you have to look at all the different threads.The thread is the most important thing because if you become a fashion designer you become stuck in that world. If you’re an architect, you’ll be stuck in that world. You have to enjoy movies, you have to enjoy art. You have to experience it all, otherwise you get put into a box and if you get put into a box you become very predictable.”

Ralph Pucci: The Art of the Mannequin is on display now through August 30 at the Museum of Arts and Design.

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