Art News

Diane Arbus Major Retrospective in France Opens at Jeu de Paume

artwork: Diane Arbus (March 14, 1923 – July 26, 1971) holding her famous photo : Child with a Toy Hand Grenade in Central Park, N.Y.C. (1962) © The Estate of Diane Arbus.

PARIS.- Diane Arbus (New York,
1923–1971) revolutionized the art she practiced. Her bold subject matter and
photographic approach produced a body of work that is often shocking in its
purity, in its steadfast celebration of things as they are. Her gift for
rendering strange those things we consider most familiar, and for uncovering the
familiar within the exotic, enlarges our understanding of ourselves. Arbus found
most of her subjects in New York City, a place that she explored as both a known
geography and as a foreign land, photographing people she discovered during the
1950s and 1960s. She was committed to photography as a medium that tangles with
the facts. Her contemporary anthropology—portraits of couples, children,
carnival performers, nudists, middle-class families, transvestites, zealots,
eccentrics, and celebrities—stands as an allegory of the human experience, an
exploration of the relationship between appearance and identity, illusion and
belief, theater and reality. On exhibition 18 October through 5 February,

In this first major retrospective in France, Jeu de Paume presents a selection of two hundred
photographs that affords an opportunity to explore the origins, scope, and
aspirations of a wholly original force in photography. It includes all of the
artist’s iconic photographs as well as many that have never been publicly
exhibited. Even the earliest examples of her work demonstrate Arbus’s
distinctive sensibility through the expression on a face, someone’s posture, the
character of the light, and the personal implications of objects in a room or
landscape. These elements, animated by the singular relationship between the
photographer and her subject, conspire to implicate the viewer with the force of
a personal encounter.

Diane Arbus was born in New York City on March 14,
1923, and attended the Ethical Culture and Fieldston Schools. At the age of
eighteen she married Allan Arbus. Although she first started taking pictures in
the early 1940s and studied photography with Alexey
Brodovitch in 1954, it was not until 1955-57, while enrolled in courses
taught by Lisette Model, that she began to seriously
pursue the work for which she has come to be known.

artwork: Diane Arbus - © The Estate of Diane Arbus. The King and Queen of a Senior Citizens Dance, N.Y.C. (1970)

Her first published photographs appeared in Esquire in 1960 under the
title The Vertical Journey. From that point on she continued to work
intermittently as a free-lance photographer for Esquire,
Harper’s Bazaar, Show, The London Sunday Times, and a number of other
magazines, doing portraits on assignment as well as photographic essays, for
several of which she wrote accompanying articles.

During the 1950s, like
most of her contemporaries, she had been using a 35mm camera, but in 1962 she
began working with a 6×6 Rolleiflex. She once said, in accounting for the shift,
that she had grown impatient with the grain and wanted to be able to decipher in
her pictures the actual texture of things. The 6×6 format contributed to the
refinement of a deceptively simple, formal, classical style that has since been
recognized as one of the distinctive features of her work.

She received
Guggenheim Fellowships in 1963 and 1966 for projects
on “American Rites, Manners and Customs” and spent several summers during that
period traveling across the United States, photographing contests, festivals,
public and private gatherings, people in the costumes of their professions or
avocations, the hotel lobbies, dressing rooms and living rooms she had described
as part of “the considerable ceremonies of our present.” “These are our symptoms
and our monuments,” she wrote in her original application. “I want simply to
save them, for what is ceremonious and curious and commonplace will be

The photographs she produced in those years attracted a
great deal of attention when a selected group of them were exhibited, along with
the work of two other photographers, in the 1967 “New Documents” show at the
Museum of Modern Art. Nonetheless, although several
institutions subsequently purchased examples of her work for their permanent
collections, her photographs appeared in only two other major exhibitions during
her lifetime, both of them group shows.

In the late 1960’s she taught
photography courses at Parsons School of Design, the
Rhode Island School of Design and Cooper Union and in 1971 gave a master class at Westbeth,
the artists cooperative in New York City where she then lived. During the same
period she initiated the concept and did the basic research for the Museum of
Modern Art’s 1973 exhibition on news photography, “From the Picture Press.”

artwork: Diane Arbus - © The Estate of Diane Arbus. Puerto Rican Woman with a Beauty Mark, N.Y.C. (1965)

She made a portfolio of ten photographs in 1970, printed, signed and
annotated by her, which was to be the first of a series of limited editions of
her work. She committed suicide on July 26, 1971 at the age of forty-eight. The
following year the ten photographs in her portfolio became the first work of an
American photographer to be exhibited at the Venice

In the course of a career that may be said to have
lasted little more than fifteen years, she produced a body of work whose style
and content have secured her a place as one of the most significant and
influential photographers of our time. The major retrospective mounted by the
Museum of Modern Art in 1972 was attended by more than a quarter of a million
people in New York before it began its tour of the United States and Canada.
The Aperture monograph Diane Arbus, published in
conjunction with the show has sold over 300,000 copies. Beginning in 2003, Diane
Arbus Revelations, an international retrospective organized by The San Francisco
Museum of Modern Art traveled to museums throughout the United States and Europe
between 2003 and 2006. Major exhibitions devoted exclusively to her work have
toured much of the world including, Australia, Germany, Italy, Japan, the
Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain, and the United Kingdom.

Visit the Jeu de Paume in Paris at :