Hôtel du Pavot, Chambre 202 (Poppy Hotel, Room 202)
Fabric, wool, synthetic fur, cardboard, and Ping-Pong balls
133 7/8 x 122 1/8 x 185 in.
Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris
About the title:
Tanning herself believes the work to be directly related to a song popular in her childhood.
In room two hundred and two
The walls keep talkin' to you
I'll never tell you what they said
So turn out the light and come to bed.
Written in the 1920s, the song laments the fate of Kitty Kane, one-time Chicago gangster's wife, who poisoned herself in room 202 of a local hotel. There are
several verses but these are the words she remembers....
—excerpt from “Between Silence and Sound: John Cage, Karlheinz Stockhausen and the Sculptures of Dorothea Tanning,” Art, History and the Senses: 1830 to the Present, Surrey: Ashgate Publishing, 2010, p. 114.
In her own words...
Monique Levi-Strauss: Lots of designers sketch or draw their ideas, but not all of them could execute their projects. It requires a deep knowledge of cutting and sewing. Do you carry out such steps for the finished project yourself?
Of course, I cut and sew everything I can find that’s susceptible to transformation. But that’s the constant of any artist, it seems to me, especially if the artist has elected cloth as a material in his most serious and most challenging effort.
M. L-S.: Then this brings us to your cloth, or as some call them, soft sculptures. Knowing that you create them from start to finish I’d like to ask you what they mean to you, how they fit into the context of your work as a painter.
These sculptures represent for me two or three kinds of triumph:
1. the triumph of cloth as a material for high purpose,
2. the triumph of softness over hardness—for how can a hard sculpture have the tactile voluptuousness of a soft one,
3. and the triumph of the artist over his volatile material, in this
case living cloth.
There is another smaller triumph—that of defining the real meaning of la haute couture—for la haute couture should mean, a priori, the invention and execution of an object which could not be made or invented by anyone else. It should, like high anything, be a unique and primal object.
M. L-S.: How did you come to make soft sculptures?
I came to this medium while listening to a concert of an avant-garde composer. I was in a state of elation, hearing the inventions he had devised for the ear. It seemed to me then that I should invent more daringly myself, and I naturally thought of woven material as a means; naturally, because I have always felt its innate beauty and magnetism and above all its possibilities.
M. L-S.: Do these sculptures take precedence over your painting?
Not at all. I feel they are parallel expressions of the same preoccupations.
That is, the sculptures bring into a three-dimensional reality the visions which have all my life lived their two-dimensional lives on canvas. By the way, the paintings are my first love. Their rounder counterparts came later.
–from interview with Monique Levi-Strauss, “Dorothea Tanning: Soft Sculptures,” American Fabrics and Fashions 108 (Fall 1976), p. 69.