Juggling Soft Signs (Marcel Marceau)

Dimensions90 cm x 128 cm x 25 cm
Materials Sandblasted glass, cast glass, bronze, sheet steel and wood
Collection Flint Institute of Art, Flint, MI

The man who almost single-handedly revitalized the art of mime, Marcel Marceau, took this stage name from a line in a poem by Victor Hugo about a great general Marceau-Desgraviers. He was born, Marcel Mangel in Strasbourg, France in 1923. During World War II he joined the French resistance and moved to Paris.

Influenced by the silent comedy stars Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, and Harold Lloyd he began his theatre arts studies just after the war with the noted mime Etienne Decroux. Afterwards he joined the company of Jean-Louis Barrault where he began to develop his own personality. His signature character Bip was dressed in a crumpled top hat with an artificial red flower and a striped shirt under a short vest with big buttons. But it was mainly his made-up white face in the comedia del arte style that told the tale of his many different impressions. His character’s name was borrowed from Pip in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations because Bip resembled the waif-like Dickensian orphans.

Marcel Marceau toured the world extensively performing in 65 countries. He was introduced and made almost instantly famous in the USA on the Ed Sullivan Television Show in the mid 1950’s.

The mime who brought “poetry to silence” died in Paris in September 2007.

The text used in this sculpture: Juggling soft signs that leave less of a trace than words, is translated from the poem in Chinese “Clown Spirit-Watching Marcel Marceau” by Chen Kehua.