Friday, October 26, 2007

Morton Bartlett

The Danforth Museum bills its Morton Bartlett exhibition, which closes tomorrow, as the first Boston-area show of the weirdo underground Boston dollmaker and photographer. He and his curious hand-crafted plaster children, which he photographed in narrative tableaux, appeared in Yankee magazine in 1962 but remained little-known until they were rediscovered after his death, in 1992. The nine photos here (as I wrote in this review) have the look of children’s-clothing-store display windows gone wrong — specifically the eerie sexual charge shot through these scenes.

The work here isn’t as incandescently weird as Bartlett gets (check out Marion Harris’s 1994 Bartlett book Family Found for gatherings of his naked, anatomically correct kid dolls), so the show winds up being a bit flat. At its most affecting, Bartlett’s art is a disconcerting combo of innocence, flirtation, and latent pedophilia. And the dolls’ expressiveness — irritation, anger, crying — creeps under your skin.

Former Globe critic Ken Johnson delved into Bartlett’s background in July.

“Morton Bartlett: Family Considered,” Danforth Museum, 123 Union Ave., Framingham, Sept. 9 to Oct. 27, 2007.

Pictured from top to bottom: “Girl with Baton,” “Girl with Stuffed Animals” and "Hula Girl.”


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