|Pinocchio (Emotional), bronze. ca. 144," Jim Dine|
Cincinnati Art Museum
Photo by the author
Somehow, I wasn't too surprised to learn this. As a child I found even the Disney version hard to face. Pinocchio struck me as a good-hearted kid whose innocent investigations and unselfconscious curiosity kept getting him into situations with dire, unforeseeable moral repercussions. I found the whole Pinocchio business too discouraging for my young ethical understanding. Maybe he should have stayed home, I timidly thought, and let it drop.
Dine, however, has always understood the reality of curiosity, desire, and the insistent, demanding ego. Even before one skims the surface of this Pinocchio work, his statement seems particularly deeply felt. Here's what he says:
"Thanks to Carlo Collodi, the real creator of Pinocchio, I have for many years been able to live thru the wooden boy. His ability to hold the metaphor in limitless ways has made my drawings, painting, and sculpture of him richer by far. His poor burned feet, his misguided judgment, his vanity about his large nose, his temporary donkey ears, all add up to the real sum of his parts. In the end it is his great heart that holds me. I have carried him on my back like landscape since I was six years old. Sixty-four years is a long time to get to know someone, yet his depth and secrets are endless."
The Cincinnati Museum has much more than Pinocchio (Emotional). Dine has explored Pinocchio in a suite of lithographs based on the thirty-six chapters of Collodi's The Adventures of Pinocchio. The Museum has installed these on a wall in the Manuel D. and Rhoda Mayerson Gallery. These prints were published in slightly different forms as a graphic portfolio by German publisher Steidl. The images in that 2006 published portfolio also serve as illustrations to the Collodi text, translated by M. A. Murray, in a handsome, affordable book, also by Steidl.
|Lincoln Memorial, 1922, Daniel Chester French|
Raised arms can signal victory and completion, as the performer of a magic trick raises applause and reveals his empty hands after the execution of an amazing illusion. Raised arms also indicate joy: We see Pinocchio here perhaps not as a performer who has made escape after escape from robber foxes, monstrous serpents, and those who would fry him as a fish; but we see him as one who rejoices to be alive among the flowering trees of April, in Eden Park! Pinocchio greets us joyously, as a survivor, happy to be alive.
|Pinocchio, 2006, Jim Dine (b. 1935).|
Cincinnati Museum of Art
The Albert P. Strietmann Collection, 2011.66.7
By contrast, the color lithograph to the right (scanned from a Museum hand-out) shows the first images of Pinocchio in Dine's suite of broadside lithographs. It is in roughly this guise that the puppet goes through the story told by the prints, and again in the similar images that accompany Collodi's text as illustrations. This is a more free-wheeling, cartoonish and adolescent character than the one shaped in the sculpture. The Pinocchio of the drawings is very animated in the simple sense that he is kinetic, always moving or reacting (below). The sculpted character is planted declaratively on his big feet. There's no suggestion that he desires to abandon his pose or give any ground. His character is unlike that of the eager puppet-boy in Dine's drawings.
|Pinocchio, Carlo Collodi and Jim Dine, 2006. Page 132.|
Its carefully wrought surface certainly invites the hand. Where it effectively depicts a stick figure in lederhosen with cartoonish extremities,
the hand enjoys the rough grain of the wood, the nubbly fabric of the wooly shirt, the suede of the shorts. We notice, too, the darkening of the wooden legs just above the shoes--a reminder of the early episode in the story when Pinocchio carelessly falls asleep with his feet on a brazier and burns them off, requiring his doting Geppetto to fashion new ones the next day.
Circling Pinocchio from any distance in fact provides views that deepen interpretation of Dine's relationship to this subject. Take the extended arms, for example. Above, I suggested that it's the pose of the successful showman (Ta-da!) or of one rejoicing. Yet when I saw him from behind, one foot back and heel raised, head thrown back and facing down the driveway by which cars approach the Museum, the pose read, "Over here!"—like an attempt to flag down whomever would pass by. No longer victorious, there's a hint of angst and neediness.
In another view that emphasizes the upturned head and nose between the raised arms, there is a vivid sense of Christ on a cross that is no less real for being invisible. The arch of Pinocchio's back and the slight bend of the knee reinforce the pose, though the appeal of the upturned face is usually prevented by the mast of the real cross.
|The Crucifix, wood, Jose Rafael Aragon, mid-19th century,|
Photo by Billy Hathorn
|Pinocchio, Carlo Collodi and Jim Dine, 2006. Page 20.|
The figure of Pinocchio is familiar to us because of his long nose (that grows longer with lies) and the donkey ears he sprouts in the Land of Boobies. But Geppetto, "first made his hair, then his forehead, and then his eyes.
"The eyes being finished, imagine his astonishment when he perceived that they moved and looked fixedly at him.
"Geppetto, seeing himself stared at by those two wooden eyes, took it almost in bad part...'Wicked wooden eyes, why do you look at me?'" (Murray translation, p.19.)
Pinocchio (Emotional) lacks eyes, one of the first features that Geppetto bestowed on his puppet son. It's disconcerting to have a visual artist leave the eyes out. Does he fear what might be reflected in the gaze of his work? Isn't there a level at which artists worry about what their productions "tell" about them? How closely do others—let alone the creators themselves—identify with completed works? How long do the ties linger?
Dine may see in Pinocchio—as anyone may—a character with whom one can associate one's lifetime of risks, mistakes, and indulgences, of juvenile and adolescent decisions made in spite of good intentions, of the awkward process of building mental and moral muscle. Hooray! Good work! We've succeeded...at what? For how long? Perhaps we're always blind to the much more we will never see coming.
But it's Pinocchio's relationship with Geppetto—Pinocchio, the wayward, inspired creation of Geppetto; and Geppetto, the flawed and inspired creator—that Dine has perhaps truly embodied in this excellent sculpture. His self-consciousness as an artist; his gift and curse of both planning, executing, and revising the work; being the father and son, the material and the soul; comprehending the story's beginning and (temporary) end—Dine's complex roles make it impossible, I think, for this single work to embody a single character any more than A Man can be presented only as Dine, Artist, Fool, or Son.
A career in art, the relationships between artist and art, or between lover and life, lover and art, or lover and one's own output: Those could be in there, waving their arms above us with the unnamed, many emotions of miserable, absurd, soul-sapping, bedazzling life. Read the story of Pinocchio and Geppetto: It's all there. In Dine's version, there's even more.
|Pinocchio, Carlo Collodi and Jim Dine, 2006. Page 168.|