Levinthal is obviously in the former category. His photographic series "Blackface," on view at the Menil Collection, is both repellent and beautiful. A grinning Aunt Jemima figurine looks serene, while ceramic children eating watermelons seem cherubic. The subjects of the images were made to perpetuate a racist stereotype, but Levinthal photographs them as if they were icons. Each figurine is shot against a black background so that lightness emerges from the characters, as if illuminated by a single light in a dark attic. The contrast feels more dramatic than if Levinthal had chosen to emphasize their outlines. It's an ambiguous statement, since the collection feels neither provocative nor exalted. No doubt it will evoke strong emotions and dialogue.
Wednesdays-Sundays. Starts: March 17. Continues through May 7