Pia Stadtbäumer

Johnen + Schöttle

Two life-sized pairs of male and female figures greet the viewer; made from gray wax, they stand stiffly, arms akimbo, staring intensely, their naked bodies somehow self-conscious yet self-contained. Pia Stadtbäumer modeled these figures from photographs she had taken, and the figures do have the look of being taken directly from real bodies; they are very human. Then, however, one notices the wires hanging from the ceiling to keep them upright. Suddenly, they are transformed into dolls—standing there simply, their gaze empty, they seem artificial, dehumanized, at an unreachable distance.

Dolls, mannequins, the general class of objects that recreate the human body belong to what we could call the magical realm of the fetish. Moving between life and death, reality and illusion, the mechanistic and the emotional, they are hybrids, inhabitants of a wondrous, strange world outside natural law. Everything is permitted here; there is no guilt, no innocence, no crime, no male or female, no difference, and above all no fear. A long line of 20th-century artists, from Marcel Duchamp and Hans Bellmer to Edward Kienholz, George Segel, John de Andrea, Duane Hanson, and now Stadtbäumer, has been attracted to this magical world.

Stadtbäumer’s figures may seem intended to distance and conquer fear of, even to triumph over, the opposite sex—all basic functions of the fetish. But they also surmount the otherness of the other. Two of them are revealed by their breasts and hips as fundamentally female, but they also have penises; and the two that are male, with masculine-muscled bodies, also have female sexual organs. These human dolls, or doll-like humans, are transsexual in gender. There is an eerie universality to Stadt-bäumer sculptural grouping: a haunting sense of self-recognition, yet a drawing back from the display of one’s innermost fears—and perhaps desires.

Noemi Smolik

Translated from the German by Charles V. Miller.