Getting to Know Diane Arbus

As part of the Met Breuer’s inaugural season, a Diane Arbus exhibition features more than 100 images that position the photographer as one of the most influential and provocative artists of the 20th century. The exhibition focuses on seven years, 1956 – 1962, representing a formative period of Arbus’ genesis.

Arbus was fascinated by photography even before she received a camera from her husband in 1941, at the age of 18, and made photos for the next 15 years while working with him as a stylist in their fashion photography business. But in 1956 she numbered a roll of 35mm film #1, marking the start of her own career. She used this camera almost exclusively over the next seven years, during which she matured into her signature idiosyncratic style of portraiture. Taken mostly around the New York area, her photographs of eccentrics, children, couples, circus performers, female impersonators, and Fifth Avenue ladies are among the most intimate of the era.

Two-thirds of the photographs in the exhibition have never before been seen, acquired in 2007 from the artist’s daughters, Doon Arbus and Amy Arbus, who chose The Met to be the repository for their mother’s work. At the time of her death in 1971, much of this work was stored in boxes in a corner of her basement darkroom in Greenwich Village, separate from her apartment, and it wasn’t until years after she died that these early photos were discovered (they weren’t included in the MoMA’s retrospective a year after her death). It was only when the archive arrived at The Met that the work was fully explored. This is the first major project to be drawn from that collection.

Diane Arbus: In the Beginning, July 12 – November 27, 2016, The Met Breuer

Female impersonator holding long gloves, Hempstead, L.I., 1959

Little man biting woman’s breast, N.Y.C., 1958

Jack Dracula at a bar, New London, Conn., 1961

Lady on a bus, N.Y.C., 1957

Blonde receptionist behind a picture window, N.Y.C., 1962

Man in hat, trunks, socks and shoes, Coney Island, N.Y., 1960

Elderly woman whispering to her dinner partner, Grand Opera Ball, N.Y.C., 1959

Girl with a pointy hood and white schoolbag at the curb, N.Y.C., 1957

A naked man being a woman, N.Y.C., 1960

Screaming woman with blood on her hands, N.Y.C., 1961

Taxicab driver at the wheel with two passengers, N.Y.C., 1956

Stripper with bare breasts sitting in her dressing room, Atlantic City, N.J., 1961

Woman with white gloves and a pocket book, N.Y.C., 1956

The Backwards Man in his hotel room, N.Y.C., 1961

Child in a nightgown, Wellfleet, Mass., 1957

Girl and governess with baby carriage, N.Y.C., 1962

Child with A toy hand grenade In Central Park, N.Y.C., 1962

Child teasing another, N.Y.C., 1960

Headless woman, N.Y.C., 1961

Woman at a counter smoking, N.Y.C., 1962

Two girls on the beach, Coney Island, N.Y.C., 1958

Boy at the pool hall, N.Y.C., 1959

Woman wearing a mink stole and bow shoes, N.Y.C., 1956

Kid in a hooded jacket aiming a gun, N.Y.C., 1957

Fire Eater at a carnival, Palisades Park, N.J., 1957

Leave a comment