This May, the Corcoran Gallery of Art and College of Art + Design
will open David Levinthal: War Games (May 11September 1, 2013) the first exhibition to bring together all of Levinthals work on the subject of war. For nearly forty years, the New York-based photographer has simulated historic war zones with action figures and dioramas, producing work that comments on the representation of conflict in photography, cinema, and other media. This exhibition celebrates the acquisition of a major, career-spanning body of the artists work, and coincides with the Corcorans major summer exhibition, WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY: Images of Armed Conflict and Its Aftermath, a survey of the history of conflict photography from the mid-1800s to the present, organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
War Games invites reflection on the intersection of war and play. Each photograph juxtaposes the inherent humor of toys with the horror and spectacle of war, exploring the boundaries between simulated reality and historical truth. Since his groundbreaking book Hitler Moves East in 1977, Levinthal has retold the history of war as a series of toy stories, from the Civil War to Iraq, from Abraham Lincoln to Saddam Hussein.
Including recent grand-scale photographs, the retrospective shows seven different bodies of work, including Hitler Moves East, Mein Kampf, and Wild West, created between 1972 and the present. Wild West (198789), Levinthals best-known body of work, explores the American frontier and the American Indian Wars, filtered through the lens of Hollywood westerns and late-20th-century advertising. Mein Kampf (199394) luridly re-enacts Adolph Hitlers theatrical rallies as well as horrifying scenes from the Holocaust. Levinthals I.E.D.(2008) echoes contemporary news imagery of our military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Levinthals imagery subverts our notion of war as a faraway phenomenon, asserting instead the simple truth that armed conflict affects each and every one of us. As Levinthals sole medium, action figures and models hold great significance. Levinthal once wrote: Ever since I began working with toys, I have been intrigued with the idea that these seemingly benign objects could take on such incredible power and personality simply by the way they were photographed.
David Levinthal: War Games was organized by undergraduate students in the Corcoran College of Art + Designs first ever Curatorial Seminar, led by the museums curators of photography and media arts. Students worked under the guidance of curators Paul Roth and Kaitlin Booher, as well as the artist himself, learning to create the exhibition from start to finish, gaining insight and first-hand experience with the inner-workings of an exhibition.
David Levinthal lives and works in New York City. Born in 1949 in San Francisco, California, Levinthal grew up in a culture saturated with images of war, recounted as news and history and fictionalized in movies and television. This upbringing greatly influenced both his career and choice of subject matter. Levinthal discovered photography in 1966 while an undergraduate at Stanford and drew initial inspiration from Edward Weston and Eugène Atget. As a graduate photography student at Yale University, he studied with Walker Evans and developed a personal aesthetic based on the construction of miniature scenes drawn from popular culture. Hitler Moves East, Levinthals 1975-77 collaboration with cartoonist Garry Trudeau, established his fame and helped inspire a rising generation of artists who staged scenes for the camera, including Cindy Sherman and Richard Prince.
The winner of numerous awards, including a 1995 Guggenheim Fellowship, Levinthal has photographs in many important collections, among them the Art Institute of Chicago, Centre Georges Pompidou, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. He has been featured in solo exhibitions worldwide, including a 1997 mid-career survey at the International Center of Photography. The Corcoran Gallery of Art first exhibited Levinthals photographs in Surrogate Selves (1989), alongside contemporaries Cindy Sherman and Laurie Simmons; he was later featured in the one-person show Playing with History (199798).