On a number of Amsterdam trams, life size illustrious mugs of Michael Jackson, Boris Becker, and Marilyn Monroe are put up. The glory of the black pop idol, the red headed tennis machine, and the dead movie star must seduce in order to bring a visit to the wax works of Madame Tussaud, where the music starts all over again, the game is never finished, and death doesn't count. They belong to the select company of Giants that stay there day and night.
I decided to pay my first visit to the museum and wriggle myself inside, in between the tourists, full with expectations. In the Hall of Mirrors, the hall of honour. World Leaders of past and present are hung about: they stand a bit lost and desolate, as if they don't want to know each other, and dutifully wait until they are allowed to enter the big gym hall, to take their tradesman's exams. Only the elder Wilhelmina is well seated and calmly surveys the events around her. In the back, on both sides of the door post, stand Drees and Luns (notable Dutch political figures) as two dilapidated undersized guards sent by a senior citizens employment agency.
PHASE I: THE MAKING OF THE SKELETON. WHEN ALL NECESSARY INFORMATION IS COLLECTED AND THE POSE HAS BEEN DECIDED, THE SCULPTOR MAKES A METAL FRAME TO SUPPORT THE CLAY.
After the worlds of Hieronymus Bosch and Rembrandt, and the big eyes of Anne Frank, Madame Tussaud's gradually becomes much less serious, and heros from the colourful world of sport and show make ‘acte de presence'. Alone in a corner, Yvonne van Gennip eternally skates her world record, encouraged by a hysterical sports announcer. Among The Stars, one also finds the minor stars, such as the Dutch singer Gerard Joling, whom I suspect to be imitating himself as a wax statue by standing as still as possible.
Exhibition of Emptiness
Back among the Leaders I try - eye to eye with Kohl and Lubbers, representatives of the firm Trick & Fraud - to shiver from horror, but disappointed I notice that there is no mention of any emotion. Their outward appearance reveals nothing: I see two arbitrary, not all too attractive men. Although traditional portraits and statues exaggerate the assumed qualities - piety, heroism, affluence, power or - more seldom - morbidity, decadence, and viciousness - from the portrayed person (not eschewing the fraud, of course) in order to tell posterity something memorable, the wax statues are missing almost any message and pretension apart from a striking outward resemblance: they reveal just as little as they hide. The historical figures still have, through the aureole of history, the charm of the 'Antique', and yet are still ‘representations' (who's ever seen Hieronymus Bosch for real?).
The contemporaries are just weak wrappings without content and are therefore not provoking. They exist just by the grace of looking as 'real' as possible. 'Real' in the sense of physiognomic, three dimensional realism, devoid of any ambiguity (it's quite imaginable that the wax museum will one day be replaced by the 'Clone Palace', culminations with living replicas - culminations of the living truth - from important Figures that willingly let themselves be pinched). Because not even one dimension is missing, the fascination which can exercise the 'fraud of semblance' is absent. In spite of the 'resemblance', they don’t represent anyone: pure appearances which, through the irony of 'too much’ reality, don’t possess their own reality. Their presence is legitimized only through the Fame of the prototypes, which, in most cases is fleeting (so that Gerard Joling will be melted down again in two years).
Phase 6: The colouring of the wax. Water-colour
AND SOMETIMES MAKE-UP ARE APPLIED TO THE FACE BY
THE SCULPTOR. He IS ALSO THE ONE WHO HAS FINAL
RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE TOTAL FIGURE AND CLOTHING
Oscar Kokoschka was so obsessed by Alma Mahler, who he never could possess, that he had a doll made up of her, which was to have been the exact embodiment of his desires and fantasies. However, the results left him bitterly disappointed. Maybe the doll maker had followed his instructions too literaly, so that the true-to-life doll couldn't possibly seduce the artist. When there is nothing left to the imagination, when every veil is lifted and the desire is fulfilled, the obscenity takes over.
At Madame Tussaud's, there is nothing to remember or to commemorate, no single important sentence, but it becomes a feast of the tautology of recognition. Alt yes, there’s the Pope. How horrible, he looks just like real. The wax Pope doesn’t even provoke the believers to cross themselves, no more than he stimulates cheering enthusiasm or condescending disapproval. That he's ugly and he looks like a potato, we already know.
The point is that a real Pope doesn't exist. He is a newspaper photo, a tv appearance with a mitre, and a wax statue made after his image. In swimming trunks or a ballet costume he is nothing.
The show of the famous summons up less feelings than the zoo, where the exhibited sorts still compel inexorable compassion and respect, as proud examples, remnants of death.
However, the apathetic groups of statues do invite one for another illusionistic game, that of fantasizing out of all causal connections. As in Museo de Cera, the wax museum of Barcelona, where Miro and Picasso bend over one work table together, each over a masterpiece in the making, observed by a motionless Velas quez. Or more cynical, like in the group of Leaders where Gorbatchov, hero of Perestroika, is placed in a separate club, in which misfits like Hitler (to my opinion one size too big) and Rommel are also displayed. Space Odyssee: Through a dark cave in which our hairy, naked ancestors seat squatted, boringly killing time, 1 enter a futuristic space where the science fiction heros, including et, are in just as blue a mood.
Phase 3: THE CASTING OF THE HEAD. A PLASTER MOLD FOR THE HEAD, CONSISTING OF ABOUT 12 PIECES, IS MADE; WHEN rr's COMPLETE THE PIECES ARE REMOVED FROM THE CLAY HEAD AND THE MOLD IS FITTED AGAIN FOR FURTHER CASTING OF THE MELTED WAX. The MOLDS OF THE HANDS ARE MOSTLY TAKEN FROM A PLASTER IMPRESSION OF THE REAL HANDS.
In Museo de Cera,
Thatcher listens to a live concert of Pablo Casals. Although the Thatcher in Amsterdam has the unmistakable vicious touches of the London Thatcher, the Spanish one looks strangely enough like a fat little Lady Di. Is there a copyright for appearance? Would, for instance Thatcher and Gorbatchov pose as a model? Many of the famous have said that they regard an invitation to pose as true recognition of their fame, according to the Amsterdam guide. In his Spanish Michael Jackson looks even less like himself than in life. (Who knows what Michael Jackson looks like? Despite the fact that you see him everywhere, he knows how to hide himself incredibly well.) The immortal Marilyn Monroe has also taken root here, where she is doomed to a nasty bladder infection, by a continuous artificial gust of wind that blows up her little dress.
To perpetuate the movement of a moment, like the unfortunate Marie Antoinette in Barcelona, who is condemned till eternity to go through her last horrifying seconds. The blade of the guillotine, sharp as a razor, to which she bows her head, falls down time after time but never fulfils it’s cleaving task. Next to Marie Antoinette, another of the damned breathes his last breath for years. Sentenced to a death by gas, he sits tied to his death chair in a vacuum-tight glass cabin. With the stethoscope connected to his chest, that actually moves up and down,
we can listen to death when life isn't visible anymore. With their noses pressed top the glass, the voyeurs of the last hour can accurately observe this lonely sight for a prolonged time.
+++Palaeontographic Science Fiction
Why must Thatcher still live if she already has been put into circulation as a wax statue? And Marilyn Monroe? Her replicas especially help one to forget her soon.
THE MAKING OF A WAX STATUE PASSES THROUGH ABOUT SIX STAGES. THE TOTAL PROCEDURE TAKES APPROXIMATELY THREE TO SIX MONTHS.
Wax statues must contribute to the image of our immortality - the preservation of the mind by showing the body - but they accelerate death. They wipe out memory and feed a collective necrophile. The world is a necropolis where the difference between life and death is abolished: a process of fossilization in which fossil and fossil hunter are each other’s equals.
Thus, the return of the dinosaur can now be finally celebrated. In H Retorn dels Dinosaures, in Museu de la Ciència in Barcelona appear the Triceratops.
Apatosaurus, Tyranosaurus, Dimentrodon, Pachicephalosaurus, Stegosaurus, Parasaurolophus and the flying Pteranodon, more lively than ever. Against this background of their ’natural’ surroundings, they roll their eyes life size, stretch their imposing necks, and utter a wonderful cry. Through the addition of never observed before movement and never heard before cries, this spectacle goes beyond reconstruction based on scientific truth. The attempt to resurrect the dead degenerates here in an unbridled fantasy. In palaeontographic science fiction.
Phase 4: The cast appears from the mold. The pieces of
THE PLASTER MOLD USED FOR THE HEAD ARE TAKEN OFF ONE BY ONE.
The uproar of the presentation hasn’t one single message anymore. Transposed in pure images, everything is visibly entertaining, extra-attractive and salable. Everything is in the offer, as if the total liquidation sale will finally take place.
IN THE MEANTIME, A MOLD OF THE BODY IS MADE, COVERED ON THE INSIDE WITH FIBERGLASS. THE DISPOSABLE PLASTER IS CAREFULLY BROKEN.
translation Linda Pollack