Small wonder: worlds in a box

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National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institute, 1996 - Antiques & Collectibles - 160 pages
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In Small Wonder: Worlds in a Box, David Levinthal takes as his subject a remarkable series of 1950s playsets manufactured by master toymakers Louis Marx and T. Cohn. As a reflection of the obsessive play of the 1950s and the current nostalgia for such items, Levinthal's tabletop photography allows the reader a bird's-eye view of imaginary tableaux - Legionnaire Captain Gallant in the desert, Fort Apache and the Wild West, boy scouts camping in the woods, and travelers making a stop at a roadside Howard Johnson's. Playset vignettes are like stills from a movie of American popular culture's collective unconscious. In the book's introduction, David Corey explores the history of playsets and their effect on American children in the 1950s.

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Contents

Section 1
Section 2
Section 3

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About the author (1996)

David Levinthal, born in San Francisco in 1949, has been working with toy figures and tableaux as the subject matter for his artwork since 1972. He is the photographer and coauthor, with Garry Trudeau, of Hitler Moves East, originally published in 1977. In January of 1997, the International Center of Photography presented a survey of Levinthal's work from 1975 through 1996. He has received a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship and was named a 1995 Guggenheim Fellow, among other accolades. His work is included in numerous museum collections, including the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Museum of Modern Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Gene Autry Western Heritage Museum, and The Menil Collection. Levinthal has always viewed toys as both an abstraction and as a tool by which a society and a culture socializes itself. The choice of which and what kind of toys are created, how they are posed, and what they are attempting to represent reflects assumptions about a society's views. I.E.D. is an attempt to look at these questions, using the canvas of the war in Iraq and the new and frightening aspects of this conflict. The acronym I.E.D. (improvised explosive device), unknown to most until just a few years ago, is now a part of our daily vocabulary. By abstracting what is already distant and foreign, Levinthal brings a new perspective to the discourse about this war, going beyond reality to create a new and perhaps more immediate presence.

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