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Art for Breakfast: Rineke Dijkstra’s Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

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Vulnerable, confronted with the camera. The girl knows this is her moment. This is her time to show the world what she is. But the moment comes and she doesn’t know what to tell us. There is a void where clothes and makeup part and only the raw bits are left behind. Dijkstra pushes the subject through the exterior shell into a kind of psychotic inner place, and then she records them there. She holds them captive, frozen in time.

I first saw Dijkstra’s work in the New York Times last year. It was a huge spread, with this photograph atop a review of her solo exhibition at the San Franscisco Museum of Art. The image stuck with me, at first because of the impressiveness of its size in the prestigious paper, and then because of the story behind it. Apparently this particular girl asked Dijkstra to take her picture. She arrived at the appointed time the next day sporting her best suit and caked with makeup. The overt narcissism of the narrative rubs up against the vacant vulnerability of the resulting image.

Printed very large, life sized. This format is hip these days. Cool colors from an unnecessary outdoor flash will flatten smooth against a white gallery wall. This only makes the raw ambiguity in the girl’s expression more exposed. It peeks out around the corner of perfect composition and color, framed in its discomfort.

Contemporary temperatures contrast with a classical composition — the figure almost exactly mirrors Botticelli’s iconic Venus. And just like that Venus, her skin glows and her feet seem to tip over the edge of unstable ground, though here that famous shell is flat against the sand. The balance between eras carries her message about youth, identity and beauty across centuries, where such human contemplations belong.

The girl holds herself to Venus’ imaginary standards while we revel in her awkward phase. Her bathing suit pulled up just over her hips; her knee just unbuckled. Her shoulder is lifted, as if her torso could be lengthened by will alone. Every muscle in her body seems to fight against the idea of a natural state. But somehow, in this sustained tension, she grasps at a bit of heart-string humanity and, through all of the discomfort, she glows.

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Image Information: Rineke Dijkstra, Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, 1992
Chromogenic print, 117 x 94 cm

Rineke Dijkstra’s work is currently on view in Boston at MassArt’s Bakalar Gallery, within the context of the show ‘Passing Time‘, and in the current presentation of the ICA‘s permanent collection.

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About Author

Margaret Rew is the gallery director at Howard Yezerski Gallery by day and fledgling writer by night. She graduated from Tufts University in 2011 with a degree in Art History and Political Science. Her daily art blog, artforbreakfast.org, chronicles the story behind, beneath and within one piece of art every day.

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