— Vincent Van Gogh.
Mattel has recently released the Barbie® Museum Collection, featuring dolls inspired by the work of artists as diverse as Leonardo da Vinci, Gustav Klimt, and Vincent Van Gogh. The da Vinci Barbie® breaks the Mattel mold in that it is quite nice looking — a beautiful and composed facial expression and a rather handsome Renaissance-period gown — not surprising given that it is modeled upon the Mona Lisa.
The Klimt and the Van Gogh dolls, on the other hand, are frankly hideous. In the case of the Klimt, the doll “echoes” the famous portrait “Adele Bloch-Bauer I”, a portrait famous for as much for its frank use of de luxe materials such as gold leaf, as for its beguiling likeness of one of
Vienna’s most famous hostesses. The painting is an exploration of the value that Viennese society placed upon wealth, and of the symbols of wealth possessed by powerful men — including beautiful women draped in jewels and rich fabrics. The doll, on the other hand, is abstraction-turned-representation: a plastic version of the original idealized musing on the nature of desire and money. (Not to mention the fact that her hair makes her resemble Cruella de Ville.) Ick.
And there’s an even more profound irony implicit in the choice of Van Gogh’s The Starry Night as the inspiration for the third doll in the series.
Van Gogh painted this work shortly before his death, and it quite literally roils with vast and swirling emotions as the stars turn endlessly in the heavens above the sleeping landscape. It is an exploration of the nature of life and death, and the relation between the two; the smallness of the human endeavour as contrasted against the huge and impersonal panorama of the universe, and the brave effort of man to stake a claim for the meaning of human life in the face of this awful indifference.
Which, in its aesthetic sense, is about as far as one can get from Barbie®.
We don’t carry Barbie® dolls, by the way, of any stripe. I don’t know whether these are likely to be available at mass merchants or whether would-be collectors will have to go straight to Mattel in order to obtain one. Which they can do, here. Or, you could make a pilgrimage to the Museum of Modern Art, 11 West 53 Street, New York, NY, where an entry ticket costing only $20 per adult (or free on Friday nights from 4:00 to 8:00 p.m.) will buy you the right to soak in these and other masterworks up close and personal.
The real thing, or the plastic version? It’s your call.