Designing Dreams. A celebration of Leon Bakst

23.10.2016 - 15.01.2017 / Villa Sauber

Nick Mauss, Collage of two drawings by Leon Bakst: “Vaslav Nijinsky in l’Après-midi d’un Faune” (1912) and “Fabric pattern” (1923).

To mark the 150th anniversary of the birth of the famous stage-designer for the Ballets Russes, the Nouveau Musée National de Monaco presents Designing Dreams, A Celebration of Leon Bakst, an exhibition running from 23 October 2016 to 15 January 2017 at the Villa Sauber.

Conceived in collaboration with Professor John E. Bowlt of the University of Southern California and in cooperation with numerous international researchers and lenders, Designing Dreams, A Celebration of Leon Bakst, is an exhibition organised around the collections of the Nouveau Musée National de Monaco and the permanent deposits of the Société des Bains de Mer.

Leon Bakst (b. 1866 in Grodno, present day Belarus – d. 1924 in Paris) is primarily celebrated for the sets and costumes he designed for the Ballets Russes company in Paris, London and Monte Carlo in the 1910s and early 1920s. His dazzling creations contributed to the global triumph of iconic shows such as Shéhérazade, Le Spectre de la rose, Narcisse, L’Après-midi d’un faune, Daphnis et Chloé, Le Dieu bleu, and La Belle au bois dormant. Drawing his inspiration from the ancient cultures of Greece, Persia and Siam as well as from Russian folk art, Bakst developed a synthesis between the art of the East and the Modern Style.

Viewing theater as a total artwork in which choreography, music, costumes and sets were of equal importance, Bakst worked closely with artists such as Serge Diaghilev, Vaslav Nijinsky, Jean Cocteau, Isadora Duncan, Ida Rubinstein and Igor Stravinsky, transforming perceptions of ballet.

Designing Dreams, A Celebration of Leon Bakst highlights Bakst’s finest achievements in stage design, while also revealing his decisive influence in the field of textile design. Several accessorized models by Yves Saint Laurent as well as plates from the SAINT LAURENT rive gauche 1991 collection inspired by the drawing and costumes of Shéhérazade and Narcisse are thus the object of an exceptional presentation

At the invitation of the Nouveau Musée National de Monaco, visual artist Nick Mauss has re-framed and interpreted Bakst’s work and its wide-ranging influence, embracing the visual and sensorial aspects of exhibition design as an art form. Mauss’ overall conception of the exhibition conflates forms of maquette, book, and exhibition, incorporating found period textual material and graphics, such as the particular language and layouts of the original arguments for each of the ballets on view. Various forms of hand-painting and printing are used throughout the exhibition, in ornamental frames stenciled directly to the walls, hand-coloring of prints, and pochoir-painted fabrics, in keeping with the popularity of pochoir as it was used in the decorative arts as well as in fashion journals, two contexts in which Bakst’s vision was so influential and widely celebrated. In this scheme Mauss suggests a tension between the stylized flatness of Bakst’s drawings and the full scale and volume of his costumes and decorations; between the intimate scale of the maquette, or the ballet program, and the larger-than-life atmosphere of the stage decor; between the individual building blocks of ornament, and the immersive rush of fabric metrage; or even between the sumptuous ballet costumes and the image of visitors to the exhibition themselves.

Designing Dreams, A Celebration of Leon Bakst features more than 150 drawings, models and costumes in a unique scenography inspired by the concept of the dream. These pieces are documented by numerous period archives and accompanied by the works of artists such as Jean Cocteau, Valentine Hugo and Georges Barbier, who contributed to the diffusion of the famous Decorative Art of Leon Bakst.

The exhibition catalog, which gathers scientific contributions from leading researchers, art historians, along with in situ installation views by Nick Mauss, will pay tribute to the greatest set designer of the modern era. The exhibition catalogue, conceived especially by Nick Mauss in parallel to the exhibition design, celebrates the art form of the book and presents in detail Bakst’s drawings, costume and textile designs, previously unpublished writings on ornament and fashion, new scholarship on Bakst’s sources and the impact of his vision, as well as exhibition views of the scenography realized in situ by Mauss.


Curators: Celia Bernasconi and John Ellis Bowlt
Exhibition design : Nick Mauss