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 the general introduction to these first two books in the National Museum of American Art's new series, "American Scene," the series editor and series curator express a hope to "present the evolving portrait of America" in a time when "the myth of the 'melting pot' has given way to a social fabric woven into a 'coat of many colors.' " While that noble dream is well on its way to being realized here, the reality still does not quite feel like art. The work of Bernice Abbott and Robert Frank, referred to in the introduction, provides insights into American life but is also characterized by a particular way of seeing. These books have less the effect of art than of photojournalism-though perhaps the best sort, one encouraging contemplation rather than sensationalism. Unfortunately, the problem lies largely in the nature of series, the constraints of size and format and introduction, which here places as much weight on the editors' vision as the individual photographer's ability to see. That said, these are nonetheless valuable documents of today's middle America, by turns pleasant and disturbing, honest, and mythical. Pratt focuses on the county fairs of the Midwest, the traditions they maintain, and, most importantly, the people who attend them. Arndt photographs men, mostly working class, mostly in crumbling cities, establishing a sense of unity among his subjects that makes it the more successful of the books. In these two multiple-image portraits, public libraries will find a moving record of fading people and their traditions.-Eric Bryant Library Journal

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Contents

Section 1
18
Section 2
19
Section 3
20
Copyright

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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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