Diane Arbus

Black-and-white photograph of light from a movie projector streaming across a balcony
42nd Street movie theater audience, N.Y.C. 1958
gelatin silver print, 16 x 20 inches (sheet) [40.6 x 50.8 cm]

Diane Arbus is one of the most original and influential photographers of the twentieth century. She studied photography with Berenice Abbott, Alexey Brodovitch, and Lisette Model and her photographs were first published 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.

Black-and-white photograph of triplets wearing matching outfits sitting on a bed
Triplets in their bedroom, N.J. 1963
gelatin silver print, 20 x 16 inches (sheet) [50.8 x 40.6 cm]
Black-and-white photograph of a woman wearing pearl earrings, a veil, and a fur collar
Woman with a veil on Fifth Avenue, N.Y.C. 1968
gelatin silver print, 20 x 16 inches (sheet) [50.8 x 40.6 cm]

A year after her death, her work was selected for inclusion in the Venice Biennale, the first time any photographer had been 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. The exhibition traveled to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Malba, Buenos Aires; and Hayward Gallery, London. In 2018, the Smithsonian American Art Museum presented 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.

Black-and-white photograph of two shirtless figures one with their hand on the others bicep
Two female impersonators backstage, N.Y.C. 1962
gelatin silver print, 14 x 11 inches (sheet) [35.6 x 27.9 cm]
Black-and-white photograph of a girl wearing a hat and a young boy in the bottom right corner of the frame
Girl in a watch cap, N.Y.C. 1965
gelatin silver print, 20 x 16 inches (sheet) [50.8 x 40.6 cm]

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). In 2022, Fraenkel Gallery and David Zwirner will co-publish Diane Arbus Documents, a compendium tracing the ways in which the understanding of Arbus’s work has evolved.

Tattooed man at a carnival, Md. 1970
gelatin silver print, 20 x 16 inches (sheet) [50.8 x 40.6 cm]

Arbus’s photographs can be found in the collections of numerous institutions around the world, including Art Gallery of Ontario, Canada; Art Institute of Chicago; Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris; Fotomuseum, Winterthur; J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Moderna Museet, Stockholm; 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; Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; Tate Gallery, London; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.