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September 2011, David Levinthal at Lead Apron

David Levinthal, Untitled, from the series The Wild West, 1989
Courtesy of the artist and LeadApron
Copyright David Levinthal


David Levinthal: Toyland

8445 Melrose Place
West Hollywood, CA

July 21 through September 5, 2011


David Levinthal is reliving his second childhood, or his third or his fourth or his fifth, and damn lucky for us, we are right there with him. His most recent exhibition of photos of, saliently, toys, is on view at LeadApron, a gallery inside a high-end book store. This is not your stereotypical kiddie fare however, as Levinthal has reimagined and restaged familiar childhood tropes -- including revisiting some his own earlier narrative set-ups -- spanning several decades, that include soldiers decked out in army fatigues, baseball heroes sliding into home plate and the mythical wild-west cowboy lassoing a rearing steed. He has also chosen to photograph a few oddball toys including what appears to be a bust of Aunt Jemima and a Barbie-like vixen posing seductively for his camera.
But don’t be fooled by these seemingly innocuous images, as Levinthal most definitely has a finely attuned sensibility and a strange but subtle political agenda. This is most poignantly expressed in the image Untitled From the Series I.E.D (2008, Archival Pigment Print on Polyester Film) where we see two soldiers from the waist up as though wading through sticky brambles and mud in some distant jungle, fully outfitted in green fatigues. Behind them is an over-sized image of what could be a politician; the upper half of his face also obscured so all we see is a fuzzy, mustached smile. Again, the viewer has been denied the gaze of the subject as both the soldiers and the demigod political figure in the background are not only out of focus, but frozen in space and time (even more than is usual in photographs), their eyes either fixed forward or not there at all.
Another image that appears unsettling in a unique way is Untitled From the Series Blackface (1997 Polaroid Polacolor ER Land Film). Here Levinthal very nearly overwhelms us with information as we are presented with the image of a ceramic toy bust of a black woman that reads very much like Aunt Jemima. The image is reminiscent of the seminal work, The Liberation of Aunt Jemima, (1971), by Betye Saar, which represents a fierce indictment of both racial and sexual oppression during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Having photographed the object head-on as though it were a portrait of a living human being, Levinthal imbues the image with grace and wit and even the lighting captures the figure’s dignified countenance, gesture and expression. Again the gaze is subverted as the figure looks away into the distance, a faint smile at play on her mouth.  We can see her eyes and can translate their expression, or rather expressiveness, however, there exists at the core of the image a central refusal to be truly “seen” and comprehended, and therein lies the irony. The purpose of the figurine was to serve as a signifier of the “other,” her blackness made more palatable by representing her as cheerful and compliant, and Levinthal is further playing on this tension.
By recasting the toys in adult versions of childhood scenarios, Levinthal further emphasizes the peculiar way in which we continue to “play act” inside our own complicated lives, twisting and distorting when necessary, and it is these distortions that make us both fragile and unique, vulnerable and all-too well armored.

David Levinthal, ‘Untitled’ from the series ‘Iraq’, 2008
Courtesy of the artist and LeadApron
Copyright David Levinthal


From David Levinthal: Baseball Series 2003
Courtesy of the artist and LeadApron
Copyright David Levinthal

David Levinthal, Barbie, 1997
Courtesy of the artist and LeadApron
Copyright David Levinthal

Eve Wood

Eve Wood is both a critic and an artist. She was represented for five years by Western Project and before that at Susanne Vielmetter; Los Angeles Projects. She has exhibited her work at numerous galleries including Angles Gallery, The Huntington Beach Museum of Art, The Weatherspoon Museum of Art etc. Her art criticism has appeared in many magazines including Flash Art,, Tema Celeste, NY Arts, Angelino Magazine, Art Papers, Bridge, ArtUS, Art Papers, Artweek, Latin, Art Review and Artillery. She is also the author of five books of poetry and one novel.

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