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Toy Story

David Levinthal’s breakthrough as a young artist came in 1977, when he published the graphic novel Hitler Moves East: A Graphic Chronicle 1941-43 with Garry Trudeau. The book featured photographs of toy soldiers and military equipment, which Levinthal arranged in tableaux and shot in styles that mimicked well-known photojournalism from World War II. The work called attention to the role of photographs and cinema in the creation of the American public’s understanding of the war, and established a visual line of inquiry that Levinthal would build on throughout his career. Using primarily a 20×24 Land Camera, but also working with the Polaroid SX-70 and, more recently, digital cameras, Levinthal has made photographs of miniature dioramas referencing other conflicts such as World War I, the Vietnam War and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He’s explored the mythology around the American West and the Space Race. He’s photographed erotic and pornographic collectible figurines for series such as “Desire.” And, for a controversial series, “Blackface,” which led to the cancellation of a solo museum exhibition in 1997, Levinthal photographed racist figurines. At the heart of his work is the idea that postwar America’s understanding of itself and the world is shaped by photographic and cinematic imagery, and the construction and representation of popular stereotypes in the culture.

“His art is particularly eloquent on the subject of the tales that we tell ourselves about who we are and how we fit into the world,” writes George Eastman Museum photography curator Lisa Hostetler, who curated Levinthal’s new retrospective exhibition at the George Eastman House museum. “David Levinthal: War, Myth, Desire” is the first retrospective exhibition of Levinthal’s work in more than 20 years. It includes 120 prints from all of Levinthal’s major series, and commercial and editorial works being exhibited for the first time. The catalogue features essays by Hostetler, art critic Dave Hickey and Smithsonian curator Joanna Marsh. A three-volume boxed set edition of the catalogue is also available.

—Conor Risch

George Eastman Museum
Through December 30, 2018
900 East Avenue
Rochester, NY 14607

David Levinthal: War, Myth, Desire
Foreword by Bruce Barnes. 
Text by Lisa Hostetler, Joanna Marsh, Dave Hickey
George Eastman Museum
240 pages, 170 images
$49.95

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Conceptual/Still Life

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