Installation view, Diane Arbus: Photographs, 1956–1971, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk, Denmark, 2022
Diane Arbus (1923–1971) is one of the most original and influential artists of the twentieth century. She studied photography with Berenice Abbott, Alexey Brodovitch, and Lisette Model and had her first published photographs appear in Esquire in 1960. In 1963 and 1966 she was awarded John Simon Guggenheim Fellowships and was one of three photographers whose work was the focus of New Documents, John Szarkowski’s legendary exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in 1967. Arbus’s depictions of couples, children, female impersonators, nudists, New York City pedestrians, suburban families, circus performers, and celebrities, among others, span the breadth of the postwar American social sphere and constitute a diverse and singularly compelling portrait of humanity.
A year after her death, her work was selected for inclusion in the Venice Biennale—the first photographs to be so honored. The Museum of Modern Art hosted a major retrospective that traveled throughout the United States and Canada from 1972 to 1975. A larger full scale retrospective, Diane Arbus Revelations, was organized by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 2003 and traveled to museums in the United States and Europe through 2006. A major European retrospective of Arbus’s work opened at the Jeu de Paume, Paris in October 2011 and traveled to Winterthur, Berlin and Amsterdam through 2013. In 2016, The Met Breuer hosted in the beginning, a major exhibition of Arbus’s work focusing on never-before-seen early photographs from the first seven years of her career, from 1956-1962. This show traveled to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (2017); Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires Malba (2017); and the Hayward Gallery, London (2019). In 2018 and 2019, the Smithsonian American Art Museum hosted Diane Arbus: A box of ten photographs, an exhibition tracing the history of the portfolio that established the foundation for Arbus’s posthumous career, ushering in photography’s acceptance to the realm of “serious” art. In 2020, the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, presented a solo exhibition of the artist’s work entitled Diane Arbus: Photographs, 1956–1971, which later traveled to the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk, Denmark in 2022, as well as the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts from 2022 to 2023.
In fall of 2022, David Zwirner and Fraenkel Gallery presented Cataclysm: The 1972 Diane Arbus Retrospective Revisited. The exhibition commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of the artist’s momentous 1972 posthumous retrospective at The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Also in 2022, the two galleries wpresented Diane Arbus: First Coming, at David Zwirner’s Hong Kong location. This was the artist’s first solo presentation in Greater China.
In 2018, inaugurating their collaboration as co-representatives of the Estate of Diane Arbus, David Zwirner and Fraenkel Gallery presented the first complete presentation of Diane Arbus’s Untitled series: sixty-six images made at residences for people with developmental disabilities to which Arbus returned for picnics, dances, and at Halloween between 1969 and 1971, the last years of her life.
In 2007, The Metropolitan Museum of Art acquired the artist’s complete archive from the Estate of Diane Arbus. The collection includes hundreds of early and unique photographs by Arbus, negatives and contact prints from 7,500 rolls of film, and glassine print sleeves annotated by the artist, as well as her photography collection, library, and papers including appointment books, notebooks, correspondence, writings, and ephemera.
Nine publications, all of which remain currently in print or available, examine the artist’s work: Diane Arbus (Aperture, 1972); Magazine Work (1984); Untitled (1995); Diane Arbus Revelations (2003); Diane Arbus: A Chronology (2011); Silent Dialogues: Diane Arbus & Howard Nemerov (2015); in the beginning (2016); Diane Arbus: A box of ten photographs (2018); and Diane Arbus: Documents (2022).
In addition to numerous institutions around the world that have Arbus photographs in their collections, the ones with significant holdings are: Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; and Tate, United Kingdom, and the National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh.
March 24–July 31, 2022
Louisiana presents the first large-scale retrospective in Scandinavia of legendary American photographer Diane Arbus (1923–1971). In a career that lasted little more than fifteen years, Arbus produced a body of work whose style and content have secured her a place as one of the most significant artists of the 20th century. The direct, even confrontational, gaze of the individuals in her photographs remains bracing to our eyes still today—provoking recognition, empathy and unease.
Arbus’s striking black and white photographs revolutionized portraiture, through their range of subjects and their style. Primarily made in and around New York City, Arbus selected her subjects—including couples, children, nudists, suburban families, circus performers, and celebrities, among others—for their singularity.
“I would like to photograph everybody,” she declared in a letter to a friend in 1960. Arbus aimed to describe, in vivid detail, a range of human difference, at a moment when visual culture strove instead to emphasize uniformity.
Highlighting her evolution as an artist over fifteen years, the exhibition Diane Arbus: Photographs, 1956–1971 features 150 photographs, drawn from the Art Gallery of Ontario’s collection and representing the full chronological arc of Arbus’s work.
From the early, intimate 35mm format prints to the sharply focused square format she embraced after 1962, these photographs allow us to trace the artist’s evolving vision as part of a changing social landscape. While early works reveal an artist gripped by the range of humanity and life as it unfolded on the street, the later works—created using a larger format—mark her emergence as a mature and compelling artist.
November 22, 2021–May 1, 2022
Cruel Radiance: Photography, 1940s–1960s focuses on extraordinary recent gifts to The Metropolitan Museum of Art—especially those made in celebration of the museum’s 150th anniversary in 2020. The show explores the flourishing of photography as a medium between World War II and the Vietnam War and includes several mini-monographic presentations on a group of diverse photographers including Diane Arbus, Helen Levitt, Roy DeCarava, Mario De Biasi, Robert Frank, Don McCullin, and Aaron Rose. The exhibition features classic photographs seldom seen, acquisitions that the museum has not yet exhibited, and magazines and books by Japanese photographers—also notable gifts to The Met and works of art in their own right. The show’s title is borrowed from Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, James Agee and Walker Evans’s collaborative Depression-era masterpiece published in 1941. Agee writes about what he believed was Evans’s (and photography’s) greatest achievement and challenge: “All of consciousness is shifted from the imagined … to the effort to perceive simply the cruel radiance of what is.”
August 24–November 28, 2021
American Photography presents an overview of the development of American photography between the 1930s and the 2000s. Displaying works by thirty-three artists, including Diane Arbus and William Eggleston, the exhibition introduces the essential currents that once revolutionized the canon of classic motifs and photographic practices. The effects of this have reached far beyond the country’s borders to the present day.
The formally austere photographs of Diane Arbus depict both social outsiders and ordinary people. Whether Arbus lends visibility to the nature of her models by means of empathy and sensitivity or stages them voyeuristically as the socially “other” is the subject of an ongoing discussion. What speaks in favor of the first aspect is that Arbus was friends with some of those portrayed and depicted them over longer periods of time, but also that the protagonists were aware of the photographer’s presence and that they played to the gallery to a certain extent.
The exhibition comprises examples from the Albertina’s rich photographic holdings. Since the foundation of its Department of Photography in 1999, the Albertina has succeeded in compiling one of the most prominent collections of American photography around the globe.
Video | About the prints
Video | Diane Arbus Untitled, Before and after
David Zwirner to collaborate with Fraenkel Gallery in the representation of the Estate of Diane Arbus
(New York, London, & Hong Kong – September 13, 2018) David Zwirner is pleased to announce its collaboration with Fraenkel Gallery in the representation of The Estate of Diane Arbus. Fraenkel Gallery’s long and close association with the Arbus Estate will continue unchanged as it works together with David Zwirner on the presentation of Arbus’s photographs in David Zwirner’s New York, London, and Hong Kong locations. The New York Times first made the announcement.
Inaugurating the collaboration will be the first complete presentation of Diane Arbus’s Untitled series, sixty-five images made at residences for the developmentally disabled between 1969 and 1971, the last years of the artist’s life. These late works are a radical departure from the bold, confrontational images upon which the photographer’s formidable reputation largely stands. They resonate with an emotional purity that sets them apart from all her other achievements. Though Arbus contemplated making a book on the subject, the majority of these images remained unknown until 1995, when Aperture published Diane Arbus: Untitled. The forthcoming exhibition at David Zwirner will include several images that have never before been seen. It opens to the public on November 2, 2018, at 537 West 20th Street, New York.
Jeffrey Fraenkel notes, "Though Arbus’s career as a serious artist spanned only fifteen years—1956 through 1971—we are still coming to terms with her achievement, significant aspects of which remain relatively little known. Our collaboration with David Zwirner and his exceptional team will help the work to be seen and better understood especially in Europe and Asia, where there have been few or no gallery exhibitions."
David Zwirner adds, "I am honored to have been entrusted to help the Estate and Fraenkel Gallery with the extraordinary legacy of Diane Arbus, whose radical work remains as relevant today as when her photographs were taken. The Estate and Fraenkel Gallery's handling of Arbus's work has been exemplary and we are thrilled to partner with them."
Together, in March 2019, the galleries will co-present Diane Arbus/Alice Neel at The ADAA Art Show at the Park Avenue Armory, New York. This presentation will explore links and resonances between the two artists, who were simultaneously creating some of their most consequential work not far from each other in New York in the 1960s.
Fraenkel Gallery, which will celebrate its 40th anniversary in September 2019 with the book and exhibition Long Story Short, began its association with the work of Diane Arbus in 1979, the year the gallery opened. Since then, Fraenkel has presented a dozen exhibitions addressing various aspects of the artist’s achievement, including Diane Arbus: Christ in a Lobby and Other Unknown or Almost Known Works, selected by Robert Gober in 2010. In 2015 the gallery published Silent Dialogues: Diane Arbus & Howard Nemerov, by art historian Alexander Nemerov, exploring the complex web of influence between Arbus (the author’s aunt, whom he never met) and her brother, the American Poet Laureate (the author’s father).
Since opening its doors in 1993, David Zwirner has been home to innovative, singular, and pioneering exhibitions across a variety of media and genres. The gallery has helped foster the careers of some of the most influential artists working today, and has maintained long-term representation of a wide-ranging, international group of artists and estates. Based in New York with spaces in Chelsea and the Upper East Side, David Zwirner expanded to Europe in 2012 with a gallery in an eighteenth-century Georgian townhouse in London’s Mayfair district, and opened its first gallery in Asia in January 2018 in Central Hong Kong.
Image: Diane Arbus, A young man and his girlfriend with hot dogs in the park, N.Y.C. 1971. © The Estate of Diane Arbus
Diane Arbus with Francesca Woodman and Robert Mapplethorpe
April 6–October 20, 2019
Highlighting the richness of the ARTIST ROOMS photography collection, which is jointly owned by National Galleries of Scotland and Tate, ARTIST ROOMS Self Evidence: Photographs by Woodman, Arbus and Mapplethorpe celebrates the work of three of the twentieth century’s most influential photographers. With a particular focus on self-portraiture and representation, the show explores the connections and similarities between these three Americans, each of whom produced bodies of work that were revolutionary, groundbreaking, and at times controversial.
Drawing from the significant holding of work by Diane Arbus within ARTIST ROOMS, the exhibition includes the artist’s limited-edition portfolio A box of ten photographs (1969–1971), which was selected by Arbus herself and as such can be seen as representing her creative expression and how she wished to be seen as a photographer. Also on view are works by Francesca Woodman, who began exploring self-identity through photography at thirteen years old and continued to experiment and develop her practice in the following decade, until her tragically early death in 1981, and a series of portraits of Robert Mapplethorpe, who explored varying personas for the camera, poignantly documenting his declining health as a result of having contracted AIDS. The exhibition occurs during the thirtieth anniversary of his death.
Interview with the Curator: Jeff Rosenheim On diane arbus: in the beginning
Diane arbus: in the beginning was a solo exhibition focusing on the first seven years of Arbus’s career, from 1956 to 1962. Organized by The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and curated by Jeff Rosenheim, curator in charge of the museum’s Department of Photographs, the show was adapted for the Hayward Gallery in London following its initial presentation at The Met Breuer in New York in 2016.
On the occasion of the exhibition, we asked Rosenheim for his insights into the production of the show and his engagement with Arbus's practice.
When were you first introduced to Diane Arbus’s work? What was the first aspect of it you were interested to engage with as a curator?
I likely first saw Arbus’s photographs in 1972 reproduced in the publication Documentary Photography, part of the Life Library of Photography which I checked out from the local public library when I was eleven or twelve. Years later, as a young curator, I dreamed and schemed to work on any aspect of her oeuvre I could. Miraculously, one day I had the good fortune to become the custodian of her archive.
How did the opportunity to reference the artist’s archival papers and notes inform your selection of works for in the beginning?
The curatorial decision to study in depth the artist’s work from 1956 through 1962 was entirely driven by the photographs themselves, not the supporting materials, such as negatives, contact sheets, or manuscripts.
Given that this is the first exhibition of these works, what did you feel it was most important to convey about them? Did this inform the exhibition layout, for example?
The design challenge for the exhibition was how to present these extraordinary, but mostly small-scale (6 × 9") black-and-white photographs in a way that made museum viewers slow down and discover the art on its own terms. We wanted to make sure visitors to the galleries were active, not passive. As a society, we have seem to have lost the ability to look at small things: we want big screens, moving images, and oversaturated color.
Are there specific works you would highlight among those on display as particularly important for the subsequent development of Arbus’s practice?
Arbus only worked independently with the camera for fifteen years, from 1956 until her death, in 1971. She was thirty-three when she made the first photographs in the exhibition. I believe she explored new ideas from day to day and year to year, but do not consider her early work made with a 35mm camera (and featured in the exhibition) less “developed” than her later work, made with a 2¼" square-format camera.
Seeing these works hung together as a group, were you able to make new observations about them, or connections between certain images?
No. I actually tried my best to make absolutely no direct connections between individual photographs. I took this as a conceptual design challenge and developed techniques (the narrow columns) to make sure each photograph could only be seen directly and not in comparison to any others. The exhibition was not organized by chronology, subject, or style, and there was essentially no beginning, middle, or end. Fascinating, really.
Image: Installation view, diane arbus: in the beginning, Hayward Gallery, London. Photo by Mark Blower
February 13–May 6, 2019
diane arbus: in the beginning was presented at the Hayward Gallery in London. Organized by The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and curated by Jeff L. Rosenheim, curator in charge of the museum’s Department of Photographs, the show was adapted for the Hayward following its initial presentation at The Met Breuer in New York in 2016. A specially designed display placed each photograph on a freestanding wall, encouraging visitors to weave their own way through the works. Some fifty of these photographs have never before been shown in Europe.
Drawing largely on the Diane Arbus Archive, a trove including unpublished images, research materials, and notes gifted to the Metropolitan Museum by the artist’s daughters in 2007, more than one hundred photographs in the show brought to light the first seven years of Arbus’s career, from 1956 to 1962. Having begun taking photographs as a teenager using a camera given to her by her future husband, Allan, and later as a stylist in their fashion photography business, the start of Arbus’s artistic artistic career can be traced to 1956, when she titled a roll of 35mm film "#1." Over the following seven years, she developed a passionate, singular practice rooted in direct interaction, in contrast with the objective approach then considered prerequisite for “serious” photography. “I do feel I have some slight corner on something about the quality of things.” Arbus, who sought to establish emotional relationships with her subjects to reveal what might otherwise have remained hidden, explained: “I mean it’s very subtle and a little embarrassing to me but I really believe there are things which nobody would see unless I photographed them.”
In the beginning chronicled an extremely prolific period for Arbus, during which nearly half the photographs printed during her lifetime were produced. The show was an opportunity to see lesser-known works such as Boy stepping off the curb, N.Y.C. 1957–58; The Backwards Man in his hotel room, N.Y.C. 1961; and Jack Dracula at a bar, New London, Conn. 1961. While the majority of the works came from the Diane Arbus Archive, others were drawn from private collections in the United States. Lent by London’s Victoria and Albert Museum for the exhibition, A box of ten photographs is a portfolio Arbus began working on in 1969. Printed following the artist’s death by Neil Selkirk, who speaks in this video about his meticulous work with Arbus’s oeuvre, A box of ten photographs established the foundation for Arbus’s posthumous career.
Speaking of the way in which these pictures, in hindsight, describe the foundation of Arbus’s mature practice, Holland Cotter writes in The New York Times, "she just looked and looked, and moved in closer. … She would stop people on a Lower East Side street or in a park, and talk to them, and start to shoot, capturing a wide range of postures and expressions. Back in the studio she would pick one image. Was it the true one? They were all true. She usually went with the one that conveyed the most dramatic, least absorbable sensation of difference." As such, these works anticipate the artist’s later photographs, among them the direct, enigmatic portraits of her Untitled series, made between 1969 and 1971, that was presented recently at David Zwirner.
Major Exhibition Dedicated to Diane Arbus’s Monumental Portfolio
April 6, 2018–January 27, 2019
In late 1969, Diane Arbus began to work on a portfolio. At the time of her death, in 1971, she had completed the printing for eight known sets of A box of ten photographs, of a planned edition of fifty, only four of which she sold during her lifetime. Two were purchased by the photographer Richard Avedon; another by the artist Jasper Johns. A fourth was purchased by Bea Feitler, art director at Harper’s Bazaar, for whom Arbus added an eleventh photograph.
This exhibition traces the history of A box of ten photographs between 1969 and 1973, using the set that Arbus assembled for Feitler, which was acquired by the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) in 1986. The story is a crucial one because it was the portfolio that established the foundation for Arbus’s posthumous career, ushering in photography’s acceptance to the realm of “serious” art. After his encounter with Arbus and the portfolio, Philip Leider, then editor in chief of Artforum and a photography skeptic, admitted, “With Diane Arbus, one could find oneself interested in photography or not, but one could no longer … deny its status as art.… What changed everything was the portfolio itself.”
In May 1971, Arbus was the first photographer to be featured in Artforum, which also showcased her work on its cover. In June 1972, the portfolio was sent to Venice, where Arbus was the first photographer included in a Biennale, at that time the premier international showcase for contemporary artists. SAAM organized the American contribution to the Biennale that year, thereby playing an important early role in Arbus’s legacy.