Within the Olympics exhibitions at the Asheville Art Museum, the exhibition entitled Precious Medals: Gold, Silver, Bronze is probably the most thought-provoking one; it features images and objects that seemingly do not have any connection to athletics at all. Rather, these objects are about metal and the ways in which bronze, silver, and gold are symbolic and how they are used to inform viewers of status and wealth. Within the exhibition hall you will find two photographs by David Levinthal of one of the most successful women in the world. She has been to the Olympics twice and will be returning in full force for the games this summer. This woman is none other than Barbara Millicent Roberts, more widely known as Barbie.
Jokes aside, these images are hanging in Precious Medals because of her clothing. When we think of metal, we think of strength; metal can often be heavy and we build things with it. But we also think of the way it shines, and the way it catches our eye when the light bounces off it. These photographs show the delicate side that something so strong can have, as well as how simple the symbol of metal can be, that it’s a part of a child’s plaything.
Their simple backgrounds and poses make their clothes jump right off the wall. In the first, the blue of the background is mirrored in Barbie’s blue dress, making the gold coat and stars stand out as the statement pieces. In the second, the green background makes the orange and gold outfit vibrate with intensity as the colors of her clothes pop against a color almost opposite it on the color wheel.
Barbie is dressed to the nines, ready for what looks like a fun night out with friends. The way the light hits Barbie’s gold coat and shimmering stockings catches the viewers’ attention from a mile away. The other doll is equally as eye catching with a flowing gold checked skirt and a large, gold belt accentuating her tiny waist. I can feel these dolls in my hands—the weight of their solid plastic figures and the scratchiness of the fabrics—and am taken back to my own childhood, a time when all I wanted was to play with Barbie dolls. These photographs are nostalgic, fun, and campy, making the petite fashionista larger than life.
—Keira Ezzo, summer 2021 communications – multimedia storytelling intern