900 Lafayette Boulevard, Bridgeport, CT // Lafayette Hall

For Immediate release:
Contact: Robbin Zella: 203.332.5052, rzella@hcc.commnet.edu

The Housatonic Museum of Art Presents

Plastic Princess: Barbie as Art

Bridgeport, CT—The Housatonic Museum of Art is pleased to host Plastic Princess:Barbie as Art, a traveling exhibition curated by Leonie Bradbury, Director of the Montserrat Gallery of Art at Montserrat College of Art in Beverly, Mass. The exhibit opens Friday, June 23 and continues through July 29th, 2006. An opening reception will be held Friday, June 23 from 6-8pm and the public is cordially invited to attend.

Plastic Princess: Barbie as Art is a multi-faceted exhibition that showcases visual and new media artists whose work features one of our most potent and long-lasting (pop-) cultural icons: Barbie®. It examines the impact of the so-called plastic princess on our culture within the contexts of feminism, gay culture, gender issues, and the use of a commercial symbol and product for purposes of artistic expression. Artists included are: Leika Akiyama, Kathleen Bitetti, Linda Carney-Goodrich, Crudo, Tom Forsythe, Joe Gibbons, Todd Haynes, Jeffrey P. Heyne, Gwendolyn Holbrow, Richard Leonard, Pia Schachter and Cynthia von Buhler. In addition, Robbin Zella, Director of the Housatonic Museum of art has included several national and local artists who also re-present Barbie in a variety of ways:  David Levinthal’s glamour shots of Barbie place her in the pantheon of such “living dolls” as Marilyn, Liz and Jackie O; Bob Kessel’s post-pop print transforms Barbie from an amiable airhead into an angry grrrl, and Natalie Simon’s black and white photos communicate that today’s Barbie is “mad as hell and isn’t gonna take it anymore.”

According to curator Leonie Bradbury, “Barbie is more than just a doll. People project their ideas and points of view onto her. When you start talking to [people] you get an understanding of how they view their world, how they treat their Barbie doll, it says a lot about their values.”

Audio-appropriation artist and founder of Detritus.net Steve Hise points to the appropriation or the “re-cycling of cultural icons” as another method of critical and political commentary. For Hise, “this is a self-conscious mode which uses the power of re-contextualization to make important statements — “cultural recycling” has the unique ability of turning the power and (often hidden) meaning of anoriginal text and its author(s) back upon itself... A bit like martial art: when you use the force of your attacker against him”.

But “recycling” Barbie in this day and age can also be costly and intimidating, especially if Mattel feels that Barbie has been defamed. Utah artist, Tom Forsythe, was sued by Mattel for copyright and trademark infringement in response to his “Food Chain Barbie” photography project. The District Court agreed with the Ninth Circuit court’s decision to uphold Forsythe’s freedom of speech and expression, and he received $2.1 million from the toy company.

Forsythe noted on his website statement that, “Mattel’s embarrassment might just send a wake up call to censorious corporate boards everywhere. At the very least, it will make it easier for artists who do get sued to find attorneys because they’re more likely to get paid at the end of the day.”

Forsythe’s art as well has his conflict with Mattel demonstrate the need to discuss open source issues and potential abuses of intellectual property laws in order to maintain our most basic freedom of speech. “We may be free to express ourselves, says Forsythe, “but if that expression involves offending a rapacious corporation, they’re equally free to sue; and unless we have the wherewithal to fight off high-powered attorneys, that’s where our free speech ends.”

Todd Haynes has also run afoul of Corporate America by using the music of Richard and Karen Carpenter as the soundtrack for his film Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story, 1987. Haynes’ employment of Barbie dolls to dramatize the life of Karen Carpenter and her struggles with anorexia nervosa, which ultimately led to her death, critique a society that puts undue emphasis on youth, beauty and thinness and Barbie, in this context, is the symbol of ideal beauty.

Leonie Bradbury notes in her catalog essay that “Over the years, Barbie has been deconstructed, reconstructed, and loathed, but her impact is hard to ignore. Considering Barbie’s status as a cultural icon and her widespread influence, this examination of the Barbie phenomenon reflects only the tip of the iceberg of her influence on visual culture.” This exhibit brings together works of art that challenge, subvert, but also embrace Barbie—a powerful iconic image and a cultural force with which to be reckoned.