Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Barbie's Dreamhouse meets Hoarders

In her new biweekly column, art historian Alison Gillmor looks beneath the surface of newsworthy art

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WHAT It Is: Barbie Trashes her Dreamhouse, in a funny, dark little series of photographs by Carrie M. Becker. The St. Louis, MO-based artist has turned a Barbie Dreamhouse into a nightmare, messing up Barbie's cute furniture with tiny garbage bags and wee boxes of crap. Everything is hand-constructed to Barbie scale, meticulously arranged and then carefully photographed.

What It Means: As a doll, Barbie's main life lesson -- besides "math class is tough," of course -- is that shopping is fun. Becker teases out the messy underside of Barbie's shiny pink consumerism, turning all those clothing purchases into compulsive clutter. (In the laundry room we see a blue jacket, last vestige of that seemingly undentable Barbie glamour, about to be swallowed up by a tide of junk.)

In her photographs, Becker questions our cultural fascination with childhood nostalgia, as well as our ambivalent attitude to stuff, demonstrated in the queasy voyeuristic pleasures of popular TV shows like Hoarders and How Clean Is Your House?

And while Barbie might be letting herself go, the artist exhibits the obsessive control of the true miniaturist. There's a startling realism to the diminutive piles of fake newspapers and styrofoam takeout containers, the Lilliputian trinkets and Gucci bags. Somehow, Becker's teenie-tiny, painstakingly-staged models have the desperate reek of real-life chaos.

Why it Matters: It's easy to see why Becker's work is popular: People can't resist the "Barbie gone bad" narrative. Just as important, though, is how: Becker's newfound fame hasn't come through a fashionable gallery show in New York or L.A. but through a Flickr set that went viral, lighting up the Internet and appearing on blogs and websites.

The art system is changing. Evidently, so is Barbie.

alison.gillmor@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 14, 2012 G3

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