Inspired by the Public Debate around Cloning, Italian Pop Artist Mauro Perucchetti Created an Icon
The 1996 creation of Dolly the sheep—the first successfully cloned mammal—sparked public frenzy. “The clones are coming,” warned the media; politicians debated the implications. It was fertile ground for writers and artists, too, like the Italian Pop artist Mauro Perucchetti.
Perucchetti, born in Milan in 1949, was already known as an artist engaged with contemporary culture. But his creation of the “Jelly Baby,” a colorful resin figure that looks like a cross between the Pillsbury Doughboy and a gummy bear, shaped his future career. “I decided to use the jelly baby as an impersonation of cloned mankind,” the artist has said. “I was trying to capture the ambiguity that could be present in a cloned being.”
The “Jelly Baby” is an intriguing character: from a distance, the figure looks sweet, candy-like, child-friendly, but up close, there’s something ominous about its blank but smiling expression, something reminiscent of a character that’s intended to entertain children but invariably frightens adults. The “Jelly Baby” is a versatile symbol, too. Perucchetti may have created it in response to the ethical debate around the topic of human cloning, but in the nearly two decades that have passed since, the iconic jelly baby has shape-shifted and taken on different meanings, depending on the context.
A single Jelly Baby, for instance, shiny and sweetly appetizing, could be read as a critique on contemporary consumer culture. But then there are Jelly Babies arranged into groups, like the seven that formed Jelly Baby Family (2012), a larger-than-life outdoor installation at London’s Marble Arch in 2010–11. “They could easily embody the unity of family and the multicultural aspect of modern society that is so prevalent, especially in London,” Perucchetti said at the time.
Those Jelly Babies were massive, but the artist also makes “tabletop” versions, like those at Art Wynwood this week with Sponder Gallery. In the past, Perucchetti has reenvisioned the Jelly Baby as a giant Buddha; he’s lined up miniature Jelly Babies to form a model of the UN. He’s even adapted the Jelly Baby for specifically altruistic purposes in Vaccines as Love Serum. A fusion of two of his better-known works, Jelly Baby Family and Love Serum, Perucchetti’s sculpture carries a public health message about the importance of vaccination—and it’s also meant, the artist has said, to soothe children afraid of needles.
At the end of the day, though, Perucchetti doesn’t need to explain every reincarnation of his candy-colored icon. “I like to make things that make people think rather than me shoving a concept down their throats,” he’s said of his work. No pun intended, perhaps, but we’d gladly take a handful or two of his sweet, sardonic Jelly Babies, and save a few for later.
Visit Sponder Gallery at Art Wynwood 2016, booth AW68, Miami, Feb. 11–15.