"Like the plastic figurines that he photographs, [David] Levinthal's art points to deeply rooted societal ideals and assumptions. They invite us to consider the way values and events of the past, however flawed or fictitious, inform who we are and how we behave in the present".
DAVID LEVINTHAL creates photographs that probe the recesses of American memory and imagination and the stereotypes that inhabit familiar cultural touchstones. Levinthal, who spent his childhood engaging with classic American myths and legends through televised Westerns and plastic playthings, never has strayed far from these formative influences, dedicating his 40-year career to photographing toys in constructed scenarios. In his images that are populated with cowboys, Barbie dolls, and baseball figurines, Levinthal explores the cultural prominence of quintessential American subjects and the influence of mass media in mythologizing them.
"American Myth & Memory: David Levinthal Photographs" showcases 74 photographs, created between 1984-2018, from two recent gifts to the Smithsonian American Art Museum of more than 400 photos by the artist. The images, drawn from six of Levinthal's most well-known series--"Modern Romance," "American Beauties," "Barbie," "Wild West," "Baseball," and "History"--reveal the evolution of Levinthal's work and his signature approach to color photography. Through these works, Levinthal explores what it means to be strong, beautiful, masculine, feminine, and, ultimately, American.
"David Levinthal's thought-provoking photographs are part of an important conversation taking place about American identity," says Stephanie Stebich, director of SAAM. "At the Smithsonian American Art Museum, we explore how images play a role in perpetuating and questioning archetypes through the work of singular American artists. This exhibition encourages critical looking to explore issues that resonate with a contemporary audience."
Adds Joanna Marsh, SAAM's deputy education chair and head of Interpretation and Audience Research: "Myth and memory are the cornerstones of every culture, and David Levinthal's work sheds light on their uniquely American manifestations. Like the plastic figurines that he photographs, Levinthal's art points to deeply rooted societal ideals and assumptions. They invite us to consider the way values and events of the past, however flawed or fictitious, inform who we are and how we behave in the present."
In "Modem Romance" Levinthal...