From the Racks: A projects+gallery Artwork Highlight
Diane Arbus, Girl in a Shiny Dress, 1967. Gelatin silver print. Edition of 75. 20 x 16 inches framed.
Tell us a little about your selection and why you chose it.
This limited edition gelatin silver print by American photographer Diane Arbus titled Girl in a Shiny Dress was taken in 1967 in New York City, where the artist spent much of her career capturing portraits of the people that populated the city. I particularly love this photo because, while it is aligned with Arbus’s documentary style, there is a feeling of joy and warmth in it that stands out within her oeuvre. The title implies a sense of celebration and the ambiguously silhouetted backdrop beckons the viewer to construct a narrative; who hasn’t had a night when the shiny dress in the closet was the only choice to set the mood?
Why would you recommend this work to a client?
Diane Arbus is undoubtedly one of the most influential photographers of the twentieth century. Even before her untimely death in 1971 she had gained considerable recognition. She was awarded two Guggenheim Fellowships in the early 1960s and was one of three artists to be chosen as the focus of John Szarkowski’s legendary exhibition New Documents at the Museum of Modern Art in 1967. Since her death, her compelling collective portrait of postwar America has become iconic. In 1972–the same year this edition of Girl in a Shiny Dress was printed–Arbus was posthumously selected as the first photographer to be included in the Venice Biennale, and her work has been exhibited in large-scale retrospectives throughout the world.
This particular photograph is also a lesser known work by her and, unlike many of her other portraits, has a contemporary aesthetic that makes it a great artwork to hang in a home as part of a personal collection. At 20 x 16 inches framed, the scale is very accessible for installation in a multitude of spaces. The image itself is strong enough to hold a wall on its own, but versatile enough to work within a grouping.
Girl in a Shiny Dress. Detail, verso.
Explain some of the conceptual points of Arbus’s work.
The typical subjects in front of Arbus’s lens were people on the margins–often seen as outcasts or “freaks”–that she photographed in a straight documentary style suggestive of their unacknowledged ubiquity within American society. In so doing, the personal identity and narrative of the people in the photos is negated in favor of functioning as mirrors of society.
These outliers remind us of our own vulnerability and that part of ourselves we often try to conceal. Ultimately, her images underscore our own uniqueness as well as our sameness: we are all outliers.
This portrait feels to me more like the inverse of the artist’s uncanny images–her subject is a beautiful woman in a beautiful dress that could be a fashion photo. But it is not like polished fashion editorials; there is a relatability in her casual, almost awkward stance and comfortable smile. The unself-conscious fall of her dress strap off her shoulder suggests she may be reaching the end of a night on the town. Arbus typically found beauty in the unconventional and even grotesque, in those outliers that were her subject. In this work, though, Arbus portrays a more conventional beauty while emphasizing the humanity and universality of such standards as a nod to the beauty that lies within all of us.
“A photograph is a secret about a secret. The more it tells you the less you know.”
– Diane Arbus
For more information about this or other works in the projects+gallery inventory, contact projects+gallery Senior Director Bridget Melloy.