Standout Barbie memory, 1990: Drawing fishnet lingerie on slick, impossibly “nude but not pale” plastic legs, with Wet ‘N’ Wild eyeliner pencil (at urging of cool friend whom our mother thought “acted too old for her age”). You can guess the rest.
Guess that’s what happens when you’re nine years old and a little too old to be playing with Barbie. For better or worse, Barbie has been a lot of things to a lot of people — a loyal but unreasonably quiet friend, an object of childhood fantasy (some more chaste than others), feminist archenemy, and questionably accurate homosexuality barometer for parents. Unquestionably, the concept of Barbie is charged, always something, never nothing. Nope. Never.
Barbie has worn a lot of hats throughout the years. From royalty to rock star, to doctor, to political figure. Literally, Barbie does whatever fuck she wants and-also-has-a-perfect-body-and-never-has-to-shower. Maybe playing with this doll was the closest most girls of our generation will come to participating in the “you can do any and everything you put your mind to” lives we were promised. And now, thanks to French artist Jocelyne Grivaud, Barbie even participates in high-brow art. Grivaud has put Barbie to work reenacting versions of great art works, so now we can see our most recognizable doll in everything from a Helmut Newton photograph, to the Mona Lisa, to an Andy Warhol painting, to Nefertiti’s beautifully sculpted head.
Grivaud’s Barbies are simultaneously eerie and hilariously critical as the artist selectively maintains Barbie’s unique element of naivety throughout, even when replicating the most serious of works. For example, Grivaud slaps a pair of diamond earrings onto the doll and keeps her hair blonde while blood pours from her mouth in Guy Bourdin replica. Très Connecticut! But still. We can’t help but feel a pang of jealousy and think: oh great, now Barbie gets to be Nefertiti and in a Warhol painting. At least one woman has figured out how to do it all! Even if she’s made of plastic and has no you-know-what! But perhaps those last two facts say it all…