Thursday, January 6, 2011

Hans Bellmer's Dolls

I visited an exhibition, called Double Nexus at the Gemeente Museum in The Hague, The Netherlands last week, which exposed me to the work of an artist who was completely new to me. The exhibition examines similarities in the work of Louise Bourgeois and Hans Bellmer.  I must admit, I had never heard of Hans Bellmer before. I found his work to be intriguing and disturbing. Bellmer was a German artist who lived from 1902 to 1975.  His work was famous among the surrealists in France.  During the 1930s Bellmer worked in almost complete isolation in Nazi Germany, producing art that was deliberately opposed to the Nazi aesthetic.  Eventually his work was banned and he went into exile in Paris; when the Nazis conquered France he was imprisoned in a camp.  After the war he continued to live and work in France.

He was possibly inspired by his love for a teenage girl and he was certainly influenced by Jacque Offenbach's Tales of Hoffman, in which the protaganist falls in love with an automaton - the stuff of typical German expressionist angst. Most importantly, the Nazis famously promoted a reactionary view of art that idolized the human body, at least, the perfect Aryan body.  Bellmer rejected this authoritarian concept of art and instead he created a series of dolls that he mutilated and then photographed. The dolls have the appearance of young girls and are obviously sexualised. It is as if Bellmer is wishing himself to fall in love with his own young, mutilated images. The result is disturbing because of the eroticism inherent in the photographs of these child-like forms, intriguing because they are mutilated, yet beautiful.

One of Bellmer's original dolls


  1. The Nazis _did_ promote a reactionary view of art that idolised the perfect Aryan body, and went to a great deal of trouble to eliminate "degenerate" art that didn't fit within their world view. So I can well understand why Hans Bellmer would have wanted to present an alternative view, during the 1930s and 40s.

    But I wonder what point he was making, after Nazism had been defeated for all times.

  2. To be honest, I have no idea what his point was, or if if he even had one. The exhibition connected his post-war work with the ideas of Bataille. I described his work as "disturbing" but my wife called it "creepy". In an article from 1991 David Nerlich described his purpose as follows: "The fetishising of body parts and fragmentation of the sexual form ignored the constraints of physical actuality. Disjointedness promoted concepts of
    physical impossibility. As a subject, the dolls servedto subvert the technology of photography, traditionallyregarded as a signpost to reality.

    Bellmer's sense of taboo lay not in what
    convention condemned but what was hidden in the
    darkness of the psyche (where it is far from safe).
    Bellmer's psychological confrontation and violence
    may constitute a spiritual jolt that liberates from
    habit and known codings. He dragged terrible desires
    out of the darkness and into cognition so that we could assimilate the full reality of our passions and the content of evil in them. How else were we to
    transcend them (in whatever way we ought) if not by
    first knowing them?' There is an excellent article from art historian Sue Taylor of the University of Chicago on Bellmer's art at :

  3. Paul, I hadn't seen this post of yours until today. I love Bellmer's work...creepy as it is...I saw his photos in a photography exhibit in Tokyo! I'm surprised you missed it...I think it was at the Photo Museum there....I have the catalog here somewhere!!!

  4. Would love to see the catalogue sometime Carolyn.

  5. Bellmer seems kind of like a.....perv. XD

  6. True, that might seem so Chiibi, but most modern artists have been accused of the same, beginning with Manet. Today it is hard to understand why people were so upset in the 19th century by Manet's "Olympia".