.cataclysm.: The 1972 Diane Arbus Retrospective Revisited

David Zwirner and Fraenkel Gallery are pleased to announce Cataclysm: The 1972 Diane Arbus Retrospective Revisited, on view at David Zwirner’s 537 West 20th Street location in New York and opening in September. Organized by both galleries to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the artist’s momentous 1972 posthumous retrospective at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Cataclysm re-creates the iconic exhibition’s checklist of 113 photographs, underscoring the subversive poignancy of Arbus’s work even today while highlighting the popular and critical upheaval the original exhibition precipitated.

Read more

Dates
September 14October 22, 2022
Opening Reception
Wednesday, September 14, 6-8pm
Gallery Hours
Tues—Sat 10am–6pm
Artist
Diane Arbus, Self-portrait with 35mm Contax D camera, dated 1959

Diane Arbus, Self-portrait with 35mm Contax D camera, 1959. Contact sheet, roll 614 #34 © The Estate of Diane Arbus. Image courtesy Diane Arbus Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Diane Arbus, Self-portrait with 35mm Contax D camera, 1959. Contact sheet, roll 614 #34 © The Estate of Diane Arbus. Image courtesy Diane Arbus Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

“A thing is not seen because it is visible, but conversely, visible because it is seen...”

 

—Passage underlined by Diane Arbus in her copy of The Works of Plato

An installation view of the exhibition titled .cataclysm. The 1972 Diane Arbus Retrospective Revisited at David Zwirner New York, dated 2022

Installation view, Cataclysm: The 1972 Diane Arbus Retrospective Revisited, David Zwirner, New York, 2022

Installation view, Cataclysm: The 1972 Diane Arbus Retrospective Revisited, David Zwirner, New York, 2022

Best known for her disconcerting images exploring the intricate nature of what it means to be human, Diane Arbus is a pivotal and singular figure in American postwar art. Her bold black-and-white photographs demolish aesthetic conventions and upend all certainties. Both lauded and criticized for her photographs of people deemed “outsiders,” Arbus continues to be a lightning rod for a wide range of opinions surrounding her subject matter and approach.

A gelatin silver print by Diane Arbus, titled Triplets in their bedroom, N.J. 1963, dated 1963.

Triplets in their bedroom, N.J. 1963
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15 x 14 3/4 inches (38.1 x 37.5 cm)
Sheet: 20 x 16 inches (50.8 x 40.6 cm)
Framed: 24 3/4 x 20 3/4 inches (62.9 x 52.7 cm)
An installation view, Diane Arbus, Museum of Modern Art, New York, dated1972

Installation view, Diane Arbus, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1972

Installation view, Diane Arbus, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1972

Organized to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the artist’s 1972 retrospective at The Museum of Modern Art, this presentation brings together the iconic exhibition’s checklist of 113 photographs so that everyone can see what all the fuss was about.

The title of the exhibition at David Zwirner—Cataclysm—alludes to the immensity of the uproar spawned by the retrospective and the ferocity of the critical discourse around the artist that emerged then and continues to the present day.

An installation view, Diane Arbus, Museum of Modern Art, New York, dated 1972

Installation view, Diane Arbus, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1972

Installation view, Diane Arbus, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1972

A gelatin silver print by Diane Arbus, titled Tattooed man at a carnival, MD. 1970, dated 1970.

Tattooed man at a carnival, Md. 1970
Gelatin silver print
Image: 10 x 9 7/8 inches (25.4 x 25.1 cm)
Sheet: 14 x 11 inches (35.6 x 27.9 cm)
Framed: 20 3/4 x 16 3/4 inches (52.7 x 42.5 cm)
A collaged archival materials featured in Diane Arbus: Documents, co-published by David Zwirner Books and Fraenkel Gallery, dated 2022

Collaged archival materials featured in Diane Arbus: Documents, co-published by David Zwirner Books and Fraenkel Gallery, 2022. Order Now.

Collaged archival materials featured in Diane Arbus: Documents, co-published by David Zwirner Books and Fraenkel Gallery, 2022. Order Now.

In the fall of 1971, in the aftermath of Arbus’s death in July, her friend, colleague, and fellow artist Marvin Israel approached John Szarkowski, the legendary director of photography at The Museum of Modern Art, about the prospect of a retrospective exhibition of her work. Szarkowski, who had begun championing Arbus’s photographs in the late 1960s, quickly agreed to do the show. Though admired and respected by an expanding coterie of photographers and artists, Arbus was not widely known at the time of her death.

A gelatin silver print by Diane Arbus, titled Four people at a gallery opening, N.Y.C. 1968, dated 1968.

Four people at a gallery opening, N.Y.C. 1968
Gelatin silver print
Image: 13 3/4 x 13 inches (34.9 x 33 cm)
Sheet: 20 x 16 inches (50.8 x 40.6 cm)
Framed: 24 3/4 x 20 3/4 inches (62.9 x 52.7 cm)
A gelatin silver print by Diane Arbus, titled Woman in a rose hat, N.Y.C. 1966, dated 1966.

Woman in a rose hat, N.Y.C. 1966
Gelatin silver print
Image: 10 3/4 x 10 1/4 inches (27.3 x 26 cm)
Sheet: 14 x 11 inches (35.6 x 27.9 cm)
Framed: 20 3/4 x 16 3/4 inches (52.7 x 42.5cm)

When the exhibition opened, on November 7, 1972, no one, not even Arbus’s most fervent supporters, could have predicted its profound impact on museum visitors, nor the impassioned—at times vitriolic—critical response the exhibition would generate among writers and thinkers. It was the most-attended one-person exhibition in the museum’s history, with lines of visitors regularly stretching down the block. Szarkowski later recalled, “People went through that exhibition as though they were in line for communion.”

A gelatin silver print by Diane Arbus, titled Child teasing another, N.Y.C. 1960, dated 1960.

Child teasing another, N.Y.C. 1960
Gelatin silver print
Image: 8 3/4 x 6 inches (22.2 x 15.2 cm)
Sheet: 14 x 11 inches (35.6 x 27.9 cm)
Framed: 16 x 12 3/4 inches (40.6 x 32.4 cm)
A gelatin silver print by Diane Arbus, titled The Human Pincushion, Louis Ciervo, in his silk shirt, Hagerstown, Md. 1961, dated 1961.

The Human Pincushion, Louis Ciervo, in his silk shirt, Hagerstown, Md. 1961
Gelatin silver print
Image: 11 1/4 x 8 inches (28.6 x 20.3 cm)
Sheet: 14 x 11 inches (35.6 x 27.9 cm)
Framed: 17 3/4 x 14 3/4 inches (45.1 x 35.6 cm)
An installation view of the exhibition titled .cataclysm. The 1972 Diane Arbus Retrospective Revisited at David Zwirner New York, dated 2022

Installation view, Cataclysm: The 1972 Diane Arbus Retrospective Revisited, David Zwirner, New York, 2022

Installation view, Cataclysm: The 1972 Diane Arbus Retrospective Revisited, David Zwirner, New York, 2022

Naturally, as in the case of the 1972 show, the current exhibition includes all the images Arbus selected for A box of ten photographs, her only portfolio, which she began work on in 1969, two years before her death. She completed the printing of eight sets of a planned edition of fifty, but despite her exhaustive efforts, only managed to sell four during her lifetime. These were acquired by Richard Avedon, Mike Nichols, art director Bea Feitler, and Jasper Johns. As Arbus wrote to her former husband, Allan, “the owners are out of Who’s Who. My confidence is absurdly on a roller coaster.”

A collaged archival materials featured in Diane Arbus: Documents, co-published by David Zwirner Books and Fraenkel Gallery, dated 2022

Collaged archival materials featured in Diane Arbus: Documents, co-published by David Zwirner Books and Fraenkel Gallery, 2022. Order Now.

Collaged archival materials featured in Diane Arbus: Documents, co-published by David Zwirner Books and Fraenkel Gallery, 2022. Order Now.

An image of a boy with a straw hat waiting to march in a pro-war parade by Diane Arbus, cover of Artforum, dated May 1971

Boy with a straw hat waiting to march in a pro-war parade by Diane Arbus, cover of Artforum, May 1971

Boy with a straw hat waiting to march in a pro-war parade by Diane Arbus, cover of Artforum, May 1971

Despite minimal sales at the time, the portfolio immediately triggered two highly consequential and precedent-breaking events. In May 1971, Artforum, which had never before permitted photographs in its pages, did a cover feature on the images in A box of ten photographs.

And at the 1972 Venice Biennale, showing photographs for the first time in its history, Arbus’s ten images at the American pavilion proved to be a sensation.

An Installation view, Diane Arbus: A box of ten photographs, American Pavilion, Venice Biennale, dated 1972

Installation view, Diane Arbus: A box of ten photographs, American Pavilion, Venice Biennale, 1972

Installation view, Diane Arbus: A box of ten photographs, American Pavilion, Venice Biennale, 1972

In retrospect, the art world’s embrace of photography can be seen to have begun with Diane Arbus and these two events. Further, it was the immense and enduring critical and popular response to the 1972 retrospective and the simultaneous publication of the Aperture monograph Diane Arbus that secured photography’s legitimacy. As Hilton Als wrote, “An artistic breakthrough of this magnitude…almost always results in work that has cataclysmic significance for the audience.”

A gelatin silver print by Diane Arbus, titled A naked man being a woman, N.Y.C. 1968, dated 1968.

A naked man being a woman, N.Y.C. 1968
Gelatin silver print
Image: 12 1/2 x 12 inches (31.8 x 30.5 cm)
Sheet: 20 x 16 inches (50.8 x 40.6 cm)
Framed: 24 3/4 x 20 3/4 inches (62.9 x 50.8 cm)

So much has changed since the 1972 show that, as is often the case with pivotal historical events, it is now almost impossible to conceive that the current status of photography as art was ever otherwise.

A  picture of collaged archival materials featured in Diane Arbus: Documents, co-published by David Zwirner Books and Fraenkel Gallery, dated 2022

Collaged archival materials featured in Diane Arbus: Documents, co-published by David Zwirner Books and Fraenkel Gallery, 2022. Order Now.

Collaged archival materials featured in Diane Arbus: Documents, co-published by David Zwirner Books and Fraenkel Gallery, 2022. Order Now.

A gelatin silver print by Diane Arbus, titled The Junior Interstate Ballroom Dance Champions, Yonkers, N.Y. 1963, dated 1963.

The Junior Interstate Ballroom Dance Champions, Yonkers, N.Y. 1963
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15 x 14 1/2 inches (38.1 x 36.8 cm)
Sheet: 20 x 16 inches (50.8 x 40.6 cm)
Framed: 24 3/4 x 22 3/4 inches (62.9 x 57.8 cm)

The nature of Arbus’s achievement is such that her work stands alone—isolated even from her chosen medium—as radical and inexplicable today as when it first appeared.

A collaged archival materials featured in Diane Arbus: Documents, co-published by David Zwirner Books and Fraenkel Gallery, dated 2022

Collaged archival materials featured in Diane Arbus: Documents, co-published by David Zwirner Books and Fraenkel Gallery, 2022. Order Now.

Collaged archival materials featured in Diane Arbus: Documents, co-published by David Zwirner Books and Fraenkel Gallery, 2022. Order Now.

What seems to have enthralled some and enraged others about Arbus’s work is how she unflinchingly illuminated the singularity of each of her subjects, which—paradoxically—linked them to one another and, by extension, to the viewer.

A gelatin silver print by Diane Arbus, titled A woman passing on the street, N.Y.C. 1971, dated 1971.

A woman passing on the street, N.Y.C. 1971
Gelatin silver print
Image: 14 1/2 x 12 5/8 inches (36.8 x 32.1 cm)
Sheet: 20 x 16 inches (50.8 x 40.6 cm)
Framed: 24 3/4 x 20 3/4 inches (62.9 x 50.8 cm)

“This is what I love, the differentness, the uniqueness of all things and the importance of life....I see the divineness in ordinary things.”

—Diane Arbus, age sixteen, in a high school essay on Chaucer

An installation view of the exhibition titled .cataclysm. The 1972 Diane Arbus Retrospective Revisited at David Zwirner New York, dated 2022

Installation view, Cataclysm: The 1972 Diane Arbus Retrospective Revisited, David Zwirner, New York, 2022

Installation view, Cataclysm: The 1972 Diane Arbus Retrospective Revisited, David Zwirner, New York, 2022

Diane Arbus Documents

 

Through an assemblage of articles, criticism, and essays from 1967 to the present, this groundbreaking publication charts the reception of the photographer’s work and offers comprehensive insight into the critical conversations, as well as misconceptions, around this highly influential artist.

Order Now

Inquire about works by Diane Arbus

    Read More Read Less

      Read More Read Less

          The 1972 Diane Arbus Retrospective Revisited

          .cataclysm.

            Inquire

            To learn more about this artwork, please provide your contact information.

            By sharing your details you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms and Conditions.
            This site is also protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

            Inquire

            To learn more about available works, please provide your contact information

            By sharing your details you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms and Conditions.This site is also
            protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.