Kenyon College

David Levinthal Activation Guide


The Wild West Series
The American West stokes our collective imagination. Children around the world have grown up hearing and seeing stories of sheriffs and outlaws; cowboys and indians; and wagon trains filled with brave pioneers settling a hostel frontier. American popular culture has honed the myth in countless books, television shows, and movies. Levinthal’s Wild West images mix fantasy and memory. Carefully arranged toys become scenes from episodes of Gunsmoke or Deadwood. Blurred and dreamlike, the images trigger childhood perceptions of good and evil; right and wrong.

David Levinthal, Untitled from the series Wild West, 1989. Polaroid ER Land Film, 20 x 24 inches, Gift of Gregory ‘83 and Aline Gooding, 2020.6.1.

What’s happening in the photo above? 

The man on horseback looks into the distance and seems to be holding a rifle. Is he a cowboy, a scout, or part of a pose chasing cattle rustlers? Levinthal lets us decide!


Every nation has foundational myths. In the United States, countless stories like the pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock, George Washington crossing the Delaware, or the frontier exploits of Daniel Boone exist in our society’s collective memory. Such myths are usually a mix of fact, conjecture, and fiction. Why are such stories so powerful and lasting? Levinthal’s work asks us to reconsider and reimagine our myths. Can you create a new myth or examine an old one?


Using any toy or action figure you have on hand, construct your own diorama. Consider recreating a real event or inventing an unexpected situation. Play with different ideas and see where they lead you. For instance…

  • Select a famous scene from history or popular culture. Recreate that scene and incorporate your figurine into the action.
  • Create a situation that requires a hero. Is your figurine the hero or just watching?
  • Craft a completely new and unexpected situation. What happens when your miniature figure encounters a full-sized object?

Take photos of your creations as you explore the possibilities. Post them to Instagram and tag @gundgallery and/or use the hashtag #LevinthalActivation. We’ll repost your submissions and add them to the Near & Far gallery!


  1. How does a historical event transform into a myth?
  2. Can memories, individual or collective, ever be completely accurate?
  3. How do memories of the past shape our visions of the future?


About Near & Far:
Contemporary art often pushes physical, intellectual, and societal boundaries. It has the power to affect change and expand understanding. In that spirit, we have been working to make remote experiences with our exhibitions ever more accessible. Near & Far offers you a new way of engaging with the Gund Gallery through a series of virtual experiences, programs, exhibition activations, and online artist-in-residence interactions.

About the exhibition American Myth & Memory: David Levinthal Photographs:
Populated with toy cowboys and cavalry, Barbie dolls and baseball players, David Levinthal’s photographs reference iconic images and events that shaped postwar American society. Despite their playful veneer, Levinthal’s images provide a lens through which to examine the myths and stereotypes lurking within our most beloved pastimes and enduring heroes. In doing so, Levinthal encourages us to consider the stories we tell about ourselves—what it means to be strong, beautiful, masculine, feminine, and ultimately, American.

American Myth & Memory: David Levinthal Photographs is organized by the Smithsonian American Art Museum with generous support from the Margery and Edgar Masinter Exhibitions Fund, the William and Christine Ragland Family Photography Endowment, and the Bernie Stadiem Endowment Fund. The exhibition’s tour is supported in part by the C.F. Foundation in Atlanta.

The Gund Gallery exhibitions and programs are made possible, in part, by the Gund Gallery Board of Directors and the Ohio Arts Council.


Images, top to bottom:

David Levinthal, Washington Crossing the Delaware from the series History, 2013, archival pigment print, 61 x 79 inches, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Donald Standford Rosenfeld, Jr. © 2013 David Levinthal

David Levinthal, Untitled from the series Wild West, 1989. Polaroid ER Land Film, 20 x 24 inches, Gift of Gregory ‘83 and Aline Gooding, 2020.6.1.



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