An impressionable Barbie Gallery: She strikes an artful pose, and the Walters will have her when the Monet exhibit opens in March.

January 05, 1998|By Holly Selby | Holly Selby,SUN STAFF

First there was Claude Monet and his art.

Then came recognition, exhibitions and fame. Then posters. Coffee mugs. Trivets. Note cards. Tote bags. Refrigerator magnets. Scarves. Mouse pads.

Now there is impressionist Barbie.

Oh, yes. The effervescent blond with nearly as many careers as outfits is no longer only interested in pink convertibles, shopping and impressing Ken. Her deeper, more contemplative side is showing: Barbie has developed a passion for art.

Mattel this year presents the perfect purchase for the art-loving doll collector or the doll-loving art collector: Barbies inspired by masterpieces. And Water Lily Barbie -- the first in the series -- owes a nod of thanks to none other than Monet.

Though she has been available in stores since fall, the Water Lily Barbie this March will make her museum debut in the gift shop of the Walters Art Gallery. The doll, which will sell for $84, will arrive at the Walters just in time for "Monet: Paintings of Giverny from the Musee Marmottan" (March 29-May 31), which includes 22 of the artist's later works.

"The Monet paintings are very important and very serious and we are presenting them in a serious way, but we think you can have a lot of fun with art, too," says Ann Wilson, the Walters' director of marketing. "Having something like Barbie in the museum store reflects that."

Water Lily Barbie is as pretty as a picture and vaguely resembles one, too.

Her shimmery periwinkle gown, studded with water lilies in pink tulle, cascades to the floor like a waterfall. Her silky blond hair, with an up-to-the-minute swirl of blue running through it, is swept skyward in an up-do that would make any Baltimorean proud.

Barbie's appearance at the Walters is a sign of the growing pressure felt by all museums to increase earned revenues, says Wilson. Faced with decreasing federal funding and increasing competition for corporate and foundation support, museums everywhere are working hard to earn more through admission fees and revenues from gift shops and restaurants.

"There is a tradition of museum stores being static," Wilson says. But these days, to keep the customer coming back, you have to rotate inventory the way you would in a regular store."

She adds: "I suppose there are purists out there who are recoiling in horror, but I don't think we are out of line."

After all, the Philadelphia Museum of Art sells pasta and temporary tattoos inspired by works of art. The Baltimore Museum of Art's gift shop offers (among other things) picture frames, earrings and Christmas tree ornaments. And there's a teddy bear wearing clothing inspired by a Renoir painting for sale in the Chicago Institute of Art's mail-order catalog.

The folks at Mattel seem unimpressed by Barbie's newest interest, however. The woman has tons of interests and always has, they say. "Barbie represents so many different things," explains Sara Rosales, manager of public relations for Mattel Inc.

"There's the fashion side of her. The career side of her. This is just another element, another theme, another look."

In fact, Barbie has several new interests -- and as many new looks -- just this year. Mattel's 1997 collector line includes a Russian Barbie, a Puerto Rican Barbie and an Arctic Barbie -- all dressed in appropriate garb. There's also Barbie as the Sugar Plum Fairy, as Cinderella and as a French lady, dressed in an outfit inspired by the Napoleonic era.

Lest anyone think that contemplating masterpieces has gone to Barbie's head, there is also the Wedding Day Barbie, complete with pearl necklace (something old) and garter belt (something blue), and the Fashion Luncheon Barbie, which comes in a soft pink ensemble with matching satin hat.

Just which artist will inspire Barbie next year? Will there be a Renoir Barbie? A Picasso Barbie? A Munch Barbie? Mattel isn't giving anything away.

Neither is Barbie. "We've been trying to get her placed on a few talk shows," says Wilson from the Walters. "But so far, it's a big 'no comment' from Barbie."

Barbie and Monet

Looking for Barbie? Call (800) 524-8697, or wait until March, then go to the Walters.

Looking for Monet? Tickets for "Monet: Paintings of Giverny from the Musee Marmottan," March 29-May 31, will go on sale Feb. 8. Members may reserve free, timed tickets beginning Jan. 11. Call TicketMaster at 410-752-1200 or 800-551-7328.

Pub Date: 1/05/98

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