Monday, July 18, 2016

DIANE ARBUS: at The Met Breuer: Review by Polly Guerin

Diane Arbus at Work
Part of the inaugural season at The Met Breuer, is the exhibition, "Diane Arbus: In The Beginning," which focuses on seven key years that represent a crucial period of the artist's genesis; Arbus as she developed her style and honed her practice. 
     The exhibition highlights never-before-seen early works from 1956 to 1962 of the iconic photographer's career---the period in which she developed the idiosyncratic style and approach for which she has been recognized, praised, criticized, and copied the world over.  The exhibition will remain on display until November 27 at The Met Breuer 945 Madison Avenue.
     For my part I would like to know, "Who was Diane Arbus?"  I am not a photography aficionado so the significance of Arbus goes right over my head, but I am intrigued enough to write this review which may shed some light on how she became one of history's most famous documenters of urban life.
    Arbus' made most of her photographs in New York City, where she was born and died, and where she worked in locations such as Times Square, the Lower East Side, Coney Island, and other areas.  Her photographs of children and eccentrics, couples and circus performers, female impersonators and Fifth Avenue pedestrians are among the most intimate and surprising images of the era.
    These photographs on display at Breuer are presented individually, like a singular work of art, on a tall wall panel. This enclave of panel trees gives visitors the opportunity to pause and examine the diverse but highly individualistic images that captured a slice of life of a forgotten era.
Family on an  Outing
Arbus believed fully that she had something special to offer the world; a glimpse of its many secrets. She once tried to explain her art by saying, "I do feel I have some slight corner on something about the quality of things. 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."

ARBUS: The Early Years
    Arbus was fascinated with photography even before she received a camera in 1941 at the age of 18 as a present from her husband Allan. She ran a fashion photography studio with him for years before starting the work which she is best known for--portraits of people outside the mainstream often on the fringes of society.
    But in 1956 she  numbered a roll of 35mm film #1, as if to claim to herself that this moment would be be her definitive beginning. During the course of the next seven years (the period when she primarily used a 35mm camera), a dramatic change took place----from pictures of individuals that sprang out of fortuitous chance encounters to portraits in which the chosen subjects became engaged participants, with as much stake in the outcome as the photographer. Throughout her oeuvre Arbus sought the poignancy of a direct personal encounter.
Arbus's Circus Entertainers 
    After her suicide at 48 in 1971, Arbus's family found boxes filled with a cache of photographic memorabilia in her basement darkroom at 29 Charles Street in Greenwich Village. and included unpublished photographs from the late 1950s, when she officially began her career as an independent artist.  The majority of the photographs included in the exhibition are part of the Museum's vast Diane Arbus Archive, acquired in 2007 by gift and promised gift from the artist's daughters, Doon Arbus and Amy Arbus. It was only when the archive---a treasury of photographs, negatives, notebooks, appointment books, correspondence, and collections---came to The Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2007 that this early work began to be fully explored.
     Accompanying the exhition is a gallery devoted to a selection of works by Arbus's predecessors and contermporaries, including August Sander, Lisette Model, Walker Evans, Helen Levitt and others. Education programs include a Studio Workshop: Portrait Photography on July 23, a Sunday at The Met on September 25, family tours and exhibition hours. The exhibition is featured on the Museum's website: as well as on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter using #dianearbus and #MetBreuer.
    Ta Ta Darlings!!!  Diane Arbus has captured a time and a place where ordinary citizens as well as freaks have their 15 minutes of timeless fame, worth the viewing. Fan mail always welcome at  Visit Polly's Blogs at and click on the Blog that resonates with your interest listed on the left-hand side of the page on fashion, visionary men, women determined to succeed, and poetry.

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