David Levinthal: “Heroes, Sluts & Servants” (2022)

Hitler Moves East, 1972-1975

Fundamentally, David Levinthal is a collector. He gathers Americana—toys and tchotchkes representing American identity—and photographs them in constructed worlds as part of personal fantasies or nightmares. His most beloved work speaks of American heroism and masculinity, featuring toy soldiers in the midst of battle and exalted sports icons in victorious poses. It is the mythical Americana of his childhood placed in idyllic landscapes from his imagination, reminiscent of the televised Westerns of the 1960s.

Over a prolific and lengthy career, Levinthal’s exploration of cultural artifacts eventually branched out from male heroes to include pinups, barbies, and blackface dolls, noting the dark side of American idealism through material culture. The glorious kitsch of vintage collectibles carried the nostalgic memories of iconic pasts, but they also bore witness to the stereotypes and prejudices of their time. As such, archival inquiry, the process through which we reinterpret cultural artifacts for contemporary audiences, is an essential tool in understanding many of the perplexing social problems of our modern world. It is the process Levinthal embarked with his more controversial series: Blackface, Hell’s Belles, XXX, Barbie, and Mein Kampf, for example.

CEPA does not shy away from a comprehensive exploration of the societal implications of Levinthal’s body of work. His more disputatious series beg the question of appropriation and lack of lived experience, with a white man commenting on female and Black representations; however, the photographer becomes an archivist who strives to ignite dialogue. Indeed, artifacts that generate warm nostalgia for the majority population have the opposite effect on minority voices. Nevertheless, Levinthal serves as the illustrator and hopes for the public to start a conversation. He states that his work “attempts to create a dialogue about racism [and sexism].” CEPA aims to assist by bringing in collaborators with various voices to talk about the work from their diverse perspectives. Together, we seek to balance the discourse by providing critical interpretations of Levinthal’s images and the pop culture they document through various lenses.

This exhibition offers its viewer a politically engaged perspective on the archive cannon allowing for a collective reflection on values, ideas, and differences represented in material culture. Note that David Levinthal’s artistic vision supports this concept as it was (still is) his goal to preserve and document for future generations to use and debate.

The images in the Heroes, Sluts, and Servants exhibit were selected from the UB Art Galleries’ collection by two scholars: guest Curator Robert Hirsch who focused on the Hitler Moves East series, establishing the historical framework for this publication, and Chief Curator Véronique Côté, who surveyed the topic of representation (or misrepresentation) of gender and race in material culture. Indeed, if history is to reflect the truth, we must scrutinize it from all angles.

Véronique Côté, Chief Curator

Exhibit Location

CEPA Gallery
FLUX & Focus Galleries
617 Main Street
Buffalo, NY 14203

Exhibit Dates

Friday, January 14, 2022
February 28, 2022

Opening Reception
January 14, 5:00-8:00pm

Free to the public

Exhibit Times

Wednesday, Friday, Saturday
12:00 p.m.–4:00 p.m.
4:00 p.m.–7:00 p.m.