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Indepth Arts News:

"Girlfriend! The Barbie Sessions by David Levinthal"
1999-07-25 until 1999-10-10
San Jose Museum of Art
San Jose, CA, USA United States of America

In honor of her 40th birthday in 1999, internationally recognized photographer David Levinthal has created a series of photographs depicting one of the most enduring toy icons of American culture - the Barbie doll. Girlfriend! The Barbie Sessions by David Levinthal, will include 38 large-format Polaroid photographs that explore the many faces of Barbie, from the fun-loving girl on the beach to the cool and glamorous seductress. The exhibition opens at the San Jose Museum of Art on Sunday, July 25 and runs through Sunday, October 10, 1999.

For the Barbie Series, Levinthal returns Barbie to her fashion model roots. Executed with a professional stylist and dresser on the set, Levinthal's photo-shoot features vintage Barbies modeling casual sportswear and Parisian haute couture dating from 1959 into the 1970s. These handmade original Barbie fashions and accessories were directly inspired by the celebrated designs of industry legends, including Balenciaga, Coco Chanel, Christian Dior, and Givenchy. Informed by the photo-sessions of leading fashion photographers Richard Avedon, Horst, and Irving Penn, the dolls are posed before solid color backgrounds with a minimum of props. Since the mid-1970s, Levinthal has photographed dolls and toys in settings that blur the boundaries between fact and fiction, while tackling such controversial subjects as Nazism, racism, and S&M fantasies. Diminutive soldiers, cowboys, and other figures populate carefully crafted tableaux in such series as Modern Romance, Mein Kampf, Blackface, and The Wild West. Despite this long history of using toys as subjects for his work, Levinthal admits that he intentionally avoided photographing Barbie for many years because of her celebrity status and the numerous stigmas attached to her image. According to Valerie Steele, when she was originally conceived in 1959 as a 'Teenage Fashion Model,' the Barbie doll combined the popular fascination with high fashion and the new American emphasis on the teenager.' Barbie's attributes of impossibly long legs, tiny waist, and large chest have been blamed for societal woes among females, such as low self-esteem and eating disorders. Despite these criticisms, Barbie continues to survive, even thrive, with a following approaching cult status. Girlfriend! The Barbie Sessions by David Levinthal presents 38 images from the series that was produced in 1997-98. The exhibition is curated and organized by SJMA Assistant Curator Patricia Hickson. Following its premiere in San Jose, the exhibition will embark on a two-year national tour to the following institutions: Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, Florida; The Museum at The Fashion Institute of Technology, New York, New York; Salina Art Center, Salina, Kansas; and Birmingham Museum of Art, Birmingham, Alabama. The exhibition is accompanied by a publication titled Barbie Millicent Roberts: An Original (1998, Alfred P. Knopf/Pantheon Press), with 75 color photographs by Levinthal and an essay by Valerie Steele, chief curator of The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. The BARBIE trademark and associated trademarks and copyrights are owned by Mattel Inc. and used under license. All rights reserved. David Levinthal is not associated with Mattel Inc.

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