Theatre Accident, New York

Irving Penn American

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 852

If every product tells a story, the items gathered in one’s glove box or breast pocket betray an entire biography. The best advertisers understood that the objects we covet and carry are constructions of the self—some conscious, others not. For Vogue, master portraitist Irving Penn conjures an entire woman from the contents of her clutch. And as it happens, all of these objects are available for purchase. Part autopsy, part "I Spy," the text that accompanied the published photograph animates its absent subject:

"This pretty disaster is a still life give-away—and we think we know what this certain pocket-losing Lucy is like. Can you guess why, for instance, we suspect: that the accident happened during the first act intermission of an opening night? That our lady is brunet, plausible, and has a practicing sense of humor? That her face is long; that she is perhaps rather nervous, and leads a busy life? Her taste is wide; concerns any era, any price? Like the rest of us, she is a bit fallible? Reasoning: page 194. The facts: gold cigarette case, lighter, holder, key; Cartier. Spectacles; Lugène. Antique gold watch; Á La Vieille Russie. Gold-plated compact; $4, Henri Bendel. Gold bead bag by Lujean; $185 plus tax, Bergdorf Goodman."

Theatre Accident, New York, Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917–2009 New York), Dye transfer print

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