Berman Museum Receives One of its Most Significant Donations

The Philip and Muriel Berman Museum of Art has been gifted 34 large-scale Polaroid photographs by artist David Levinthal’s 1988 Wild West series. The gift is valued at over $650,000.

The collection is one of the most significant donations of work by a living artist since the donation of works by artists Lynn Chadwick in 1989.

The Polaroids feature elaborate scenes using nostalgic toy figurines as the subjects. The 34 photos stand at 20-by-24 inches tall and show off the stunning and vibrant colors of the Wild West. With rich oranges, browns and hints of blue, the stories Levinthal created unfold with impressive detail on paper.

The photographs, received from a New York-based collector, fit perfectly within the collection goals that the Berman has been working towards, says Julie Choma, collections manager and senior registrar at the Berman Museum.

Choma says the museum is seeking more contemporary art and photography to add to its rich collection.

“These are not only unique and contemporary, but they’re amazing quality as well,” Choma says. “It’s surprising what shape they are in. To get 34 of these really pristine quality photographs from an artist like David Levinthal fits with our mission. We couldn’t pass it up.”

Levinthal is currently working in New York City and has created many other series featuring toy figures in different situations over the years. In many cases his work juxtaposes the happy memories that toys elicit with the harsh surroundings of his carefully curated photo environments.

Levinthal is an American artist who over the past four decades has produced work collected by many of the most significant museums in the U.S. and abroad. In 1977 he co-authored with Garry Trudeau (the creator of Doonesbury) Hitler Moves East, a book of photographs using the same style to recreate scenes from World War II. Hitler Moves East was a series of black and white photographs portraying the horrors of war through close-cropped shots of plastic men, tanks and helicopters.

Levinthal’s appropriation of a journalistic style to re-stage events that occurred before his birth have earned Hitler Moves East recognition as one of the earliest examples of postmodern photography.

Due to the sensitive nature of Polaroid photographs, careful attention must be paid in properly storing the Polaroids and eventually exhibiting them. The Berman Museum plans to feature the entire collection of 34 photos in the not-too-distant future. –By Mary Lobo ’15