David Levinthal: Hitler Moves East

May 31 – September 21, 2015

While a graduate student at Yale University in the 1970s, American photographer David Levinthal discovered the powerful potential of a curious subject: toys. Captured in tight, zoomed-in shots, the conventional figurines spring to life in his intricate, carefully balanced tableaus.

Mana Contemporary Chicago presents Levinthal’s first major project, Hitler Moves East, in which he employed toy soldiers and meticulously constructed sets to stage the tragic 1941-3 trek made by Hitler’s sixth army’s troops into the former Soviet Union. In 1977 the resulting sepia-toned, photo-journalism-esque images were published in a book of the same name, which introduced the photographer’s distinct, emotive style. The volume’s success encouraged Levinthal to further develop his toy-centric vision and devote his life to the craft; his work has since been exhibited in leading institutions and galleries around the world.

Nine images from the series were selected by the artist for the exhibition Hitler Moves East, exhibited earlier this year at Mana Contemporary’s New Jersey headquarters. Originally taken in 1975 and reprinted in 2012, the oversized, limited edition works provide an intimate glimpse into Levinthal’s early experimentation with object-driven narrative photography.

A defining factor in Levinthal’s approach to image-making is his rejection of the documentary-style photography of the 1960s and his embrace of a more playful, synthetic relationship with history and culture. The photographer’s preference for hobby-shop figurines (in lieu of human subjects) allows him to brazenly address difficult themes like war, racism, sex, and political strife. Yet his signature close-up, depth-constricted shots give his strategically arranged toys an uncanny sense of life, complicating the boundary between real and make-believe. Mana’s Hitler Moves East attests to the intentional ambiguity that has long permeated Levinthal’s work, prompting questions about truth, credibility, and perception.

About David Levinthal:
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. In January of 1997, the International Center of Photography presented a survey of his work from 1975 to 1996. He has received a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, and was named a 1995 Guggenheim Fellow. 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’s studio is at Mana Contemporary’s New Jersey headquarters.

IMAGES
Untitled from the seriesHitler Moves East Edition 1/3, 1975/2012. Studio ID: HME BC 311
Untitled from the seriesHitler Moves East Edition 1/3, 1975/2012. Studio ID: HME 018
Untitled from the seriesHitler Moves East Edition 1/3, 1975/2012. Studio ID: HME BC 402
Untitled from the seriesHitler Moves East Edition 1/3, 1975/2012. Studio ID: HME BC 404
Untitled from the seriesHitler Moves East Edition 1/3, 1975/2012. Studio ID: HME BC 310
Untitled from the seriesHitler Moves East Edition 1/3, 1975/2012. Studio ID: HME 033