Catherine Thery's 'Not The Ones You Think' Exhibition Reimagines Classic Paintings With Barbie
French photographer Catherine Théry's rendition of The Birth of Venus is unfit for the walls of the Uffizi Gallery, but in the best way possible. Instead of Botticelli's luscious brush strokes and mythical figures, Théry staged the scene of the goddess of love's creation using an unlikely model, Barbie, who is visited by two alien-like characters also based off Barbie doll bodies. This is just one recreation of a famous painting starring Barbie found in her "Pas celles que vous croyez," or "Not the ones you think," photograph series, which also includes reenactments of The Last Supper, American Gothic, and more classics using the iconic toy.
Théry told Bustle that she cast Barbie as all her female characters because the doll is "mythical" and hyper-feminine, providing visible contrast to art's usual subjects, who are typically male unless they are merely in the painting to represent beauty. She deliberately took Barbie out of her usual roles so that in the digitally enhanced photographs, "she is not only beautiful; she is intelligent and cultured." Indeed, Barbie stands in not just for female art subjects like Venus but also for men playing male roles like those in Rembrandt's The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp.
I found this piece a striking role reversal of not just the 17th-century medical examination room, but also the gender dynamics of both Renaissance and modern art, with clothed Barbies and a naked Ken. Théry explained:
The Anatomy Lesson, which I called "The object man," is also a way to reverse roles. Man becomes the object to women... Man is bound in this lesson because then it is the woman who holds the key .... for once!
In contrast, Théry chose to leave all the Barbies in The Last Supper undressed, but also with the motive of straying from convention:
The Last Supper, called" Happy meal," questions the role of women in religion, all religions. Usually the woman is backstage in the religion that is made by men for men.
She added that she used naked Barbies to defy many religions' requirement that women cover up.
Frida Kahlo's Las dos Fridas
Grant Wood's American Gothic
Michelangelo's The Creation of Adam (or, in this case, Eve)
Jacques-Louis David's The Death of Marat
I imagine creating these images was a throwback to childhood — just with fewer pink accessories and far more adult subject matter.
Images: Courtesy of Catherine Théry