Diane Arbus: Biography

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 landmark 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 photographer 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 landmark 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 2018-2019, 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. 

David Zwirner and Fraenkel Gallery are pleased to present Cataclysm: The 1972 Diane Arbus Retrospective Revisited, currently on view at David Zwirner’s 537 West 20th Street location in New York. The exhibition commemorates the fiftieth anniversary of the artist’s momentous 1972 posthumous retrospective at The Museum of Modern Art, New York. In 2018, Diane Arbus Untitled was on view at David Zwirner, New York. 

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 of 7,500 rolls of film, glassine print sleeves annotated by the artist, as well as her photography collection, library, and personal papers including appointment books, notebooks, correspondence, writings, and ephemera.

Eight publications 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); and Diane Arbus: A box of ten photographs (2018).

Arbus’s photographs can be found in the collections of numerous institutions around the world, including Art Institute of Chicago; Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris; Fotomuseum, Winterthur; J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Moderna Museet, Stockholm; The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Pompidou, Paris; National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo; National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; Tate, London; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.

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