The Puppet Show in Santa Monica

Kiki Smith, “Nuit,” 1992. Courtesy the artist and Santa Monica Museum of Art.

Taking Alfred Jarry’s 1896 Ubu Roi as its historic point of departure, The Puppet Show at the Santa Monica Museum of Art includes work by 28 artists, including Art:21 alumni Louise Bourgeois  and Kara Walker (both Season 2), Bruce Nauman (Season 1),  Mike Kelley (Season 3), and Laurie Simmons (Season 4).

Originally conceived as a puppet show, Ubu Roi is the story of a despotic king who, among other oddities, strode the stage barking the French scatological word “merdre.” The play is a scathing indictment of grotesque government and source for many an allegory and “puppet transgression,” buttons that many of the artists in The Puppet Show similarly activate. As the press release states, puppets are everywhere. “They show up on stage, on television, in film, and even online, where assuming a fake identity to garner public opinion is called ‘sock-puppeting.’”

The exhibition runs through August 9th and explores the imagery of puppets in sculpture, film, video, time-based media, animation, and 2D work. In addition, a collection of historic puppets, marionettes, and ventriloquist dummies housed in a backstage, “subconscious” area of the exhibition called “Puppet Storage” will also be on display.


  1. Read about the originating exhibition, which was on view at the Philadelphia Museum of Art earlier this year, here.

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