American Myth & Memory: David Levinthal Photographs
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, has never strayed far from these formative influences, dedicating his 40-year career to photographing toys in constructed scenarios.
The exhibition American Myth & Memory: David Levinthal Photographs showcases more than 60 color photographs, created between 1984 and 2018, from two recent gifts to the Smithsonian American Art Museum of more than 400 photographs 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 was born in San Francisco in 1949, into a rapidly changing post-World War II American society. He earned a degree in management science from the MIT Sloan School of Management (1981), a master’s degree in fine arts from Yale University (1973) and a bachelor’s degree from Stanford University (1970). He received a John Simon Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship (1995) and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship (1990). Since 1972, he has worked with toy figures and tableaux in his artwork. His photographs are in the permanent collections of numerous museums around the world.
Curator: Joanna Marsh, Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Deputy Education Chair, Head of Interpretation and Audience Research
David Levinthal, Untitled, from the series Baseball, 2004. Polaroid Polacolor ER Land Film, 24 x 20 inches. Courtesy of Smithsonian American Art Museum, gift of an anonymous donor. © 2004 David Levinthal
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