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Jarvis RockwellMaya

  • Exhibition

  • November 1, 2001 - March 1, 2002
  • Galleries

Inspired by the Hindu temples that he saw on a trip to Madras/Chennai in India, artist Jarvis Rockwell created an enormous 11′ tall stepped pyramid at MASS MoCA and lined it with thousands of action figures. The work, installed in MASS MoCA’s Fitzpatrick Family Gallery on the third floor of Building 4, was a dizzying display of every kind of toy from limited edition Star Wars figurines to exotic Japanese monsters to vintage Howdy Doody and Batman dolls.

The volume and diversity of the collection, as well as the effort it took to assemble it, is staggering. While Rockwell appreciates the diversity of designs, the narratives that they represent fascinate him more. He relishes the clash of Bart Simpson, GI Joe, and the Muppets, and the idea of mixing their fictional worlds.

Inspiration for Maya came from Hindu temples, which are frequently covered with sculptures of the gods that make up the Hindu pantheon — Rockwell replaces those gods with the dolls. Rockwell believes that the Western passion for action figures is in part due to a repressed polytheism underlying Western culture. For Rockwell, the figures stand in for the abundance of desires found in contemporary culture. By creating vignettes using his endless collection of figures, Rockwell astounds the viewer with fascinating stories.

Jarvis Rockwell is the son of famed illustrator Norman Rockwell. He began collecting action figures in 1979, and since then his collection has grown by hundreds and sometimes thousands of pieces per year. After a decade of collecting, Rockwell began to create small groupings, articulating the relationships he saw between the figures, and arranged his tableaux in Plexiglas boxes. Rockwell’s scenes have been included in several exhibitions, most notably an expanded version that filled the large Broadway window of the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York in 1997. A dozen of these boxes were on display at MASS MoCA, in addition to Maya.

Rockwell’s Maya was part of MASS MoCA’s major exhibition Game Show, a group exhibition of works by artists who use the rules and structure of games as a basis for their art.

Jarvis Rockwell, Maya, 2001
Photo by Arthur Evans

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