This is the first exhibition of work by Diane Arbus (New York, 1923-1971) to be held in Argentina, opening at MALBA. Curated by Jeff L. Rosenheim, Curator in Charge of the Department of Photographs at The Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met), this exhibition of one of the most influential photographers of the twentieth century brings together over one hundred photographs produced by the artist between 1956 and 1962, the period when she developed the themes central to her oeuvre and her singular vision, which attempted, as the artist herself put it, to register “divineness in ordinary things.” The exhibition is the first collaboration between The Met and any institution in Argentina.
Entitled “In the Beginning,” the show revolves around the first seven years of the artist’s work with her 35mm camera on the streets of New York during which “an evolution took place—from pictures of individuals that sprang out of fortuitous chance encounters to portraits in which the chosen subjects became engaged participants,” explains Rosenheim. “This longing to know, this curiosity about the hidden nature of what she was photographing, coupled with her belief in the power of the camera to make that visible, is, above all, what sets her apart,” he adds.
The composition of street portraits like Woman in a mink stole and bow shoes, New York City 1956 and Man in hat, trunks, socks and shoes, Coney Island, N.Y 1960 reflects a new sort of intimacy, as do Jack Dracula in a Bar, New London, Connecticut 1961 and Stripper with bare breasts sitting in her dressing room, Atlantic City, New Jersey 1961. In those last two, focus is placed on the tie between the photographer and the model as chance or secondary details are cast aside. “Behind a circus tent or a stage, or inside a bedroom, Arbus’s role of curious outsider gradually gives way to that of privileged insider,” the curator explains.
Most of the photographs in the exhibition form part of The Metropolitan Museum’s Diane Arbus Archive—purchased from the artist’s heirs in 2007—and were, prior to the 2016 show at The Met, never before exhibited; that show was the result of a number of years of work on the archive. The layout of the MALBA and Met shows is the same. It consists of a chronological exploration of a sort of dimly lit woods in order to invite visitors to delve into the intimacy of Arbus’s art. The exhibition culminates with the portfolio A box of ten photographs—which belongs to the SFMoMA collection—a set that Arbus produced in 1970 and 1971 that includes legendary portraits in square format like her Identical Twins, New Jersey 1967 and A Jewish giant at home with his parents, in the Bronx, N.Y. 1970.