The Aesthete

The Boys Who Cried Wolf

Artist Will Cotton and fashion icon Isaac Mizrahi reinvent Prokofiev's classic at the Guggenheim

by Simona Rabinovitch illustration Will Cotton

The passion of desire and the compulsion to consume have have long been inspiration for artist Will Cotton, so it's no surprise that these themes are delightfully on display in Cotton's collaboration with another not-a-wall-flower, fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi. This holiday season Cotton (responsible for the art installation) and Mizrahi (as narrator) take on Sergei Prokofiev's classic children's tale Peter and the Wolf at the Guggenheim Museum as part of the Works in Process series, an annual treat since 2007.

"The first time I heard the Peter and The Wolf story I was about 8 or 10, when it was on PBS and narrated by Leonard Bernstein when he was the conductor for the Philharmonic,” says Mizrahi. “When I stared looking at the [text] all these years later I realized how much he extemporized and I felt freer to do the same myself." The musical, which wraps performances this weekend, also features producer Prokofiev and former New York City Opera musical director George Manahan performing conductor duties for the Juilliard Ensemble.

The beloved 1936 composition tells the story of young Peter, who becomes a hero by venturing beyond his backyard and saving his village from a big bad wolf (who ends up safely in the zoo). Clocking in at a kid-friendly 30 minutes, the annual Guggenheim show is a classic piece of folklore meant to appeal to audience of all ages. The requirement to stick a G-rating, though, hasn’t stopped Cotton from exploring more sinister, imaginative, thematic territory.

"I set the whole thing in a candy land paradise, utopia, dystopia," says Cotton of the set which features a large-scale gingerbread chalet that’s painted with lollipops, meringues and the ominous wolf. The candy land scene, he explains, is meant to stoke the appetites of both children and adults, "so one could imagine being in a place where everything is consumable and there's a possibility of all desires being fulfilled all the time.”

"Our collective battle against temptation “is more of a daily struggle then most of us even recognize," says Cotton, who also played with the “wolf as metaphor” trope in his art direction for Katy Perry’s “California Gurls” which stars none other than Snoop Dogg (now Snoop Lion) as the story’s terrifying, terrorizing canine.

"Everyone is so completely afraid of the wolf's desire,” says Cotton. “But as we look at this set made of lollipops and gingerbread and meringues, we're not just looking at the wolf as an outside force of desire, but hopefully understanding that this desire is actually in all of us. We can relate to it."

Mizrahi’s signature enthusiasm will undoubtedly be in full force for the show’s swansong this weekend. "I have loved every second of the past shows I've done," said Mizrahi, who makes sure to who credit the orchestra, not himself, for “creating” the performance. "My relationship to the story is very deep felt. I sometimes have to stop myself from crying onstage when the duck dies.”

Tickets are still available for 12/14 at 2:30 p.m. and 12/15 at 4 p.m. shows. To purchase tickets, click here.