Oh you beautiful doll

Photographer David Levinthal gets creepy with XXX

David Levinthal has made his reputation arranging and photographing dolls: plastic soldiers, nostalgia-steeped '50s toys, Nazi figures, blackface figurines, cowboys, Indians and Barbies.

In his most salacious body of work, XXX on display at Fay Gold Gallery, the artist photographs tiny, hand-assembled erotic models with an adult obsessiveness that makes his other projects look like child's play. With their enormous breasts, leather fetish clothing, nylon stockings and sex-drowsed expressions, these sex dolls have the look of tiny strippers or fantasy prostitutes. Levinthal often photographs the dolls in close-up, breaking them down into erogenous parts and the legs, breasts and luscious pouts that define them as purely sexual creatures.

The crux of the project seems to lie as much in creating the dolls (i.e. assembling the kits and meticulously painting them) as in the glossy 20-by-24-inch Polaroids that result. Murky and disturbing for its insight into a particular kind of control-oriented male desire, the show's ickiest image is a doll reduced to two enormous breasts floating in a black haze. Where the censor would mark out the "naughty bits" with a black bar, this image blacks out face and irrelevant parts to foreground the meat of the matter. In such images, Levinthal moves from critic to accomplice, allowing his own vision to become yet another scrim of desire.

Because the dolls purchased from comic book stores require assembly, they become even more disturbing as symbols of the "perfect" woman — sex Frankensteins assembled by their masters. Levinthal reportedly used professional model makers to paint the dolls, adding yet another veneer of creepy detail to the process, apparent in the tan lines, Brazilian bikini waxes and shimmery lips. At every level, these photographs are a collaborative project of male desire, and it's impossible to shake the feeling that while these dolls may be a reflection of cultural obsessions with a certain kind of female sexuality, these men are not somehow immune from the very operations they are vaguely critiquing.

XXX runs through Oct. 8 at Fay Gold Gallery, 764 Miami Circle. Tues.-Sat. 9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. 404-233-3843. www.faygoldgallery.com.??