Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Girl in the Zigzag Dress

Part One: A Decisive Moment

When choosing topics to write about for this blog, my ideas come from various sources.  Sometimes there’s an idea that’s interested me for a long time and I think about it for months before I write about it.  Sometimes I find an idea and write the post quickly.  I choose the topics, they don’t choose me.  That was not the case for this post, however.   One unexpected image, found at a time I was not expecting it, catapulted me into months of research and discovery that now culminate here.   To begin, some background is in order.

My own artwork requires me to research art history quite frequently, so that’s where this post begins.  I was at my campus library, researching a topic completely unrelated to what I’m discussing here.  Specifically, I was researching the infamous Terracotta Warriors that were once believed to be stellar examples of ancient Etruscan art.  It turned out they were forgeries, though, and the case gave the Metropolitan Museum of Art (who bought them believing them to be authentic) a curatorial black eye.  I was hunting through old books looking for color photos of the sculptures, focusing on books about the Metropolitan Museum’s collection.  I was having no luck when I saw Thomas Hoving’s Making the Mummies Dance on the library shelf.

Hoving was the Met’s outspoken director for many years, and he also wrote an excellent book on art forgery called False Impressions, so I knew he was well versed in the Etruscan warrior case.  Even though Mummies is more about his time running the Met in the 60s and 70s (the sculptures had been exposed as forgeries years earlier) I figured it was worth a shot.  I quickly flipped through the photos included in the middle of the text and saw a picture that literally stopped me in my tracks.  All thoughts of forged antiquities evaporated as I glimpsed a shockingly familiar face in a grainy photo.  My immediate reaction was “I know that woman”.  The photo in question (reproduced below) was taken by Leonard Freed:

I was not able to find a clear reproduction, but even at this resolution the dress in pretty distinct.
The reproduction was of low quality but there was no mistaking that I had seen her (and her zigzag dress) before.  Not in a vague, half-remembered sort of way, either.  I could remember exactly where and when I had first seen her.  Namely, here:

 This photo is by Garry Winogrand and clearly shows the same woman wearing the same dress (the same man is next to her in both photos too, by the way). It was taken during the Centennial Ball held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (it’s one of several photos from that event that Winogrand made).  The photo has gone by different titles (from the descriptive Centennial Ball, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, to simply Untitled), but almost every source I found, both in print and on-line, date the picture to 1969 (something I take issue with, but more on that later in the post).

Keep reading after the jump