CHELSEA — The West Chelsea art scene is about to get shaken up — by felt.
A chic gallery on Tenth Avenue will devote itself to puppets starting this Thursday, with an exhibit featuring thousand-dollar marionettes and a puppet show that's not for kids.
The internationally renowned Wakka Wakka Productions, a nonprofit arts group known for incorporating masks, clowns and more into its theatrical shows, will take over the Andrew Edlin Gallery from Jan. 23 to Feb. 1 with "Snonkey and Eli Do 10th Avenue," a combination installation, exhibition and performance.
The free performances, which will take place on Jan. 23, 25 and 30 and Feb. 1, will recount the real-life story of Moritz Rabinowitz, a Jewish man who lived in Poland in the years leading up to World War II and was sent to Norway to escape anti-Semitic pogroms.
Rebecca Hoffman, the gallery's director, said the dissonance between the serious subject matter and the cute puppets was intentional.
"When you look at puppets, you think they're going to be Elmo or Cookie Monster," she said. "But here you encounter the puppets and they're very raw. It will be somewhat of a social commentary."
The group has previously addressed other serious topics using puppets, including a show on the Icelandic financial crisis.
Each puppet is handmade by Kirjan Waage, a Norwegian puppet-maker who began his career building stuffed animals.
The show will feature four vignettes, each in a particular time and place in Rabinowitz's life. One will involve puppets hanging from the ceiling and another will be an intimate, family environment where the puppets will look like tiny humans.
Hosting the story is a skeleton puppet, inspired by the Mexican Day of the Dead, named M.C. Skelly.
"You'll encounter him on eye level, not guarded or behind a screen," Hoffman said. "The goal here is to take the viewer's imagination of what they think of a puppet show and make it completely different."
A collection of puppets made by Waage will hang in the front of the gallery as well. Those puppets won't take part in the performances, but will be for sale, for a few thousand dollars apiece, Hoffman said.
"Snonkey and Eli Do 10th Avenue" begins on Jan. 23 at 7 p.m. at the Andrew Edlin Gallery, 134 10th Ave.