Last Wednesday, Shotwell 50 Studio launched its 11th annual San Francisco AlteredBarbie Exhibition, “The Doll That Has It All!” The show features the doll that dominated so many of our childhoods as she has never appeared before. Statues, dioramas, paintings, and photographs created by dozens of artists test the limits of the familiar figure in this unusual creative reuse exhibit. “To alter Barbie is almost a religious thing,” states Julie Andersen, who curates the exhibit each year. “It’s very blasphemous. That’s how strong the icon is.”
Whether you revere Barbie’s beauty and envy her abundance of accessories, or you despise the provocative hussy’s unearthly perfection and ravenous consumerism, these pieces are sure to fascinate viewers. At the entrance of the gallery, Beyond the Web of Illusion features a partially-nude Barbie trapped in a spider’s web. The doll’s honor is preserved by the cover that the giant tarantula devouring her provides.
In the far corner, Ghost Barbie stands looking like a gothic showgirl, adorned in a skimpy outfit and eerily opaque head mask made of over 1,000 Swarovski crystals. All-Barbie Centaur Dance Ensemble is placed in the center of the space, a collection of six-limbed, two-headed creatures with animal-print bodies made from pairs of Barbie dolls. Framed photographs from a Barbie show that a Dutch artist mounted inside a cathedral capture such scenes as a Princess Barbie under attack by a group of dirty, naked Barbies in chains (The Last Barbie Part One); and a statue of the Virgin Mary with the Baby Jesus sitting beside a Princess Barbie in a matching dress with her own baby doll on her lap (Two Madonnas).
Here, Barbie lies under the blade of a guillotine. There, a picture of her and Ken on their wedding day shows their skin melting to bone. Near the door, two skeletons dressed for the prom stand in a box with the words “Memento Mori” above their heads and “Barbie + Ken” at their feet. At some points humorous, at others haunting, the profusion of works featured in this year’s exhibition nearly overwhelms the small space.
Collectors, take note: all of the pieces featured in the AlteredBarbie Exhibition are for sale. On Nov. 17, the public is invited to meet the artists from 3-10pm at the closing reception. The event will feature live music, cabaret, and a drag performance by the Ethel Merman Experience.
Through Nov. 17, free
Shotwell 50 Studio
50 Shotwell, SF