On ViewAlyssa Davis Gallery
December 11, 2021 – April 3, 2022
Greenwich Village has gone to the dolls. In an apartment space 11 stories above Cornelia Street and Sixth Avenue is Alyssa Davis Gallery, now host to Goodbye Dolly, a sculptural installation piece by the Brooklyn-based artist Abby Lloyd.
The artwork, an oversized white-fabric rag doll, sits in the gallery’s wedge-like corner, a unique feature in the building’s floor plan created by the acute-angle intersection of Cornelia and Sixth. With ample space and panoramic views of Lower Manhattan, the room is a nice chunk of real estate, but as a dollhouse apartment it would be tinier than a shoebox.
That’s because Goodbye Dolly is scaled up to fifty-five times the size of your usual foot-long rag doll, according to the artist. So the doll is not only bigger than a typical doll, it’s bigger than you and me. Much bigger. A site specific installation, it was designed for the space and assembled in it. She leans her head against the corner and rests her boneless arms atop the windowsills, her oven-mitt hands gesturing something between a solemn benediction and a frantic salutation. Perhaps due to the sculpture’s size, I briefly thought of some of the larger-than-life seated Buddhist statues I had seen earlier that day at the Met, but instead of sitting some variation of contemplative cross-legged, as those statues usually do, Goodbye Dolly splays her legs out—along the walls and into the space, indecent and inviting.
The doll’s overall form and construction are derived from Raggedy Ann, a commercialized rag doll and story book character created by the writer Johnny Gruelle in 1915 that has since become an iconic plaything for generations of children. Goodbye Dolly, however, looks less like a mechanically reproduced corporate product, and more like a make-shift, home-made object. Perhaps it was stitched and stuffed by a giant mother for her giant daughter.
Two enormous “buttons” serve as eyes. Constructed with plaster and foam, they are differently sized and differently colored (the left, brown; the right, red), contributing to the doll’s manic expression and reminding us that this was a penny-pinching operation. These are attached to the face with black “threads” as thick as a wrist. (Incidentally, those threads form two X’s that prompt a fleeting and fairly incongruous association with those of the foreboding KAWS colossi lining Park Avenue.) Three arcs drawn below in black make up a dimpled smile. The doll’s hair is also black, and a bit thinned out, like an aging rock star who keeps it long and dies it to the ink of his youth, refusing to go gentle into the good night of infirm irrelevance.
The stripes of her leggings are black and white, playing up the Addams Family/Beetlejuice aesthetic, and they are bare to our view, because she has been stripped of her usual frock and apron. (In my experience with dolls as a child, the best fun was had by removing their clothes and seeing them naked.) For this reason, her white chest is also bare, and on the left side here we find a heart symbol. On a traditional Raggedy Ann doll, this would be stitched with the words “I love you” enclosed within, but in Lloyd’s adaptation, the heart is a blank and somewhat somber patch of purple-dyed denim.
The title, Goodbye Dolly, is an obvious play on the 1964 Jerry Herman musical Hello, Dolly!, whose title song was popularized by Louis Armstrong in a recorded version that year. As it turns out, the current installation is the final show for Alyssa Davis Gallery in this unique space. Yet one wonders: is this doll really telling us au revoir, with those outstretched arms that yearn for an embrace? Or, rather, is Lloyd, who has made doll-themed sculptures and installations in the past, herself saying goodbye to the long-cherished subject? That’s one secret this creature keeps to herself.
One expects to find something sinister about a doll gone rogue. I never saw the Chucky series, but clearly those films and others like it are tapping into a disconcerting mélange of childhood memories, mimetic uncanniness, and our species’ natural concern for the wellbeing of babies, whom dolls typically resemble, and for whom they are designed. But on the whole, Goodbye Dolly doesn’t give off the creeps. If any element of horror persists, it is akin to that of Ghostbusters’ Stay Puft Marshmallow Man—dangerous, lovable, and a little pathetic, but above all hilarious. Good Golly, Miss Dolly.