Vital Mummies: Performance Design and the Store-Window Mannequin

Why yes, I am still knee deep in my research about window displays! This by Sara Schneider in 1995 was the most complete deep dive I’ve yet read, giving the full treatment to the 1939 Dali-riding-a-bathtub-through-the-window story among other details. “Narcissus White” at Bonwit Teller in 1939 was a collaboration of Dali with Tom Lee, featuring a claw-foot bathtub covered in white fur, 100 mannequin hands rising up from the tub with mirrors, an old mannequin with tears of blood and long blonde hair crawling with beetles only wearing a negligee. Bathtub filled with dirty water and the display apparently offended people to the point where store management altered it, infuriating Dali who tried to destroy it and accidentally crashed through the window, then being arrested.

Another artist to add to the list: James Rosenquist worked as a freelancer under Gene Moore. Also freelancing for Moore, Jasper Johns & Bob Rauschenberg who shared a joint pseudonym, Matson Jones (from their mothers’ maiden names), because didn’t want their commercial work confused with their “real” art. Surrealist Exhibition of 1938 had misogynist treatment of mannequins. “Man Ray, Joan Miro, Kurl Seligmann, Salvador Dali, Andre Masson, Maurice Henry, Marcel Duchamp, Oscar Dominguez, and Max Ernst made department store mannequins into objects of decay and depravity by covering them with snails, matting their hair, painting colossal tears on their cheeks, enclosing their heads in bird cages.”

She includes a lengthy discussion of Lynn Hershman’s 1976 Bonwit Teller “Bonnie” windows (25 Windows: A Portrait/Project). Also Diane Everett’s live robot routine, and Colette’s 1978 performance in the Whitney Museum window (“The Last Stitch”) faking a suicide.

In the Who Knew? department:

  • For years in New York, women were prohibited from working past 10 PM, effectively keeping them out of the window display industry where most of the work takes place at night.
  • In many parts of the country it was illegal to undress or dress a mannequin in front of spectators. In the 1950s in NYC you could get a ticket for undressing a mannequin in the window.