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At 50, Barbie Still Inspiring Artists

The anatomically formidable plaything Mattel first cranked out in 1959 is celebrating her 50th birthday this year.

But there doesn’t seem to be any diminishment of the enjoyment that little girls are having playing with–and sometimes mutilating–their Barbies.

And, over the years, artists have been similarly drawn to the plastic icon.

Pop artists Andy Warhol and Peter Max paid homage to Barbie in portraits; film-maker Todd Haynes cast his film Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story entirely with Barbie, Ken and the gang.

In Bloomington there are at least two visual artists incorporating Barbie into their work Gail Kincaid is a local assemblage artist who dismembers and paints Barbies and places them in three-dimensional collages.

As a mother, Kincaid tried to maintain a Barbie-free household, but as a professional costume designer in St. Louis and San Francisco, she encountered plenty of what you might call “Barbie fallout. ”

During the month of April, Gail Kincaid shows her Barbie assemblages and more in Bloomington World Gallery Imports.

Painter Tina Newberry is a professor in Indiana University’s Hope School of Fine Arts who uses photographs of a variously costumed Barbie in staged scenes during her slide lectures.

The pictures began as autobiographical bookmarks for her slide lectures, but morphed into more elaborate set-ups at steeplechases, and Civil War reenactments.

For Newberry, Barbie serves as a sort of alter-ego, a Wonderwoman to her Diana Prince.

Turning Barbie into whatever she wants her to be was one of the things that attracted Newberry to Barbie as a young girl.

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Yaël Ksander

WFIU's Arts Desk Editor, Yaël seeks out and shepherds the stories of artists, musicians, writers, and other creative people. In addition, Yaël co-hosts A Moment of Science, writes essays for A Moment of Indiana History, produces Speak Your Mind (WFIU's guest editorial segment), hosts music and news hours throughout the week, and lends her voice to everything from accounting courses to nature documentaries. Yaël holds a MFA in painting from Indiana University, an MA in art history from Columbia University, and a BA from the University of Virginia, where she studied languages and literature.

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