In William Gibson's 2003 novel Pattern Recognition, his female protagonist Cayce Pollard has a violent physical reaction to images of the Michelin Man, which cause her to break out in hives. My own initial reactions to the Michelin Man as well as the Pillsbury Doughboy were not unpleasant, but similarly intense. From my earliest childhood, I can recall harboring a deep and abiding affection for the characters. For some time I even had a plush doughboy with which I slept at night.
Ebony, Ivory, Rubber, and Dough is a both a anthropologic/curatorial fantasy and structuralist installation that utilizes the Pillsbury Doughboy and Bibendum, the Michelin Tire man, as an entry point to create various polemical aesthetic associations between blacklight painting, coloring book illustration, the American popular grotesque, and fascist aesthetics and imagery. The 16 paintings and 2 sculptures in the exhibition can be grouped into 4 catagories :
1. Early and/or grotesque blacklight representations of the Pillsbury Doughboy
2. Early and/or threatening blacklight representations of Bibendum
3. Later/cute "white light" representations of the Doughboy
4. Later/cute "white light" representations of Bibendum
This "cuteness development" is a reality of the characters' history and can be traced to the influence of Japanese cartooning. The enlargement of eyes and heads in proportion to bodies being a key factor.
While blacklight painting is a traditional medium whose history is primarily associated with the use of psychedelic drugs and 60's counter-culture, the designation of the other works in the exhibition as "white light" is entirely my own. They are paintings designed to look like coloring book illustrations and are intended as a "good" counterpoint to the "evil" blacklight works.
It is interesting to note that grotesque representations of the Pillsbury Doughboy are very much in abundance, while unauthorized depictions of the Michelin Man are relatively hard to come by. Perhaps it is the former's unrelenting cheerfulness that inspires people to take up their pens against him.
Concerning the fascist blacklight representations of Bibendum: When Bibendum was first conceived, the aesthetics that determined his design were, like Futurism, very much a product of the industrial revolution. The dark optimism of early images of the Michelin Man now seems as though it could not but be related to the fascist aesthetics of Albert Speer, and indeed they are cousins of a sort. Speer drew heavily on advertising for his designs. This resulted in a kind of transposing of public perception over time: Much of the advertising imagery of the machine age now seems to have an ominous tone that is difficult to distinguish from the one evoked by Nazi imagery and propaganda.
Of course, the overarching controversy in this exhibition lies in the contrast between its structuralist mode of presentation and it's fantasy/historical approach to its subjects. This approach is not without it's own history. Fan Art and literature has always consisted of a mix of the fantastic and the historical. Much like the further adventures of the Star Wars characters or the volumes devoted to those of Tolkien's stories, Ebony, Ivory, Rubber, and Dough presents a bit of atavistic arcana from it's characters case histories.