In 1967 the curator John Szarkowski staged an exhibition at New York’s Museum of Modern Art called New Documents. It featured the work of three relatively unknown photographers: Garry Winogrand, Lee Friedlander and Diane Arbus. Their edgy, street-smart aesthetic caused a stir, particularly in the case of Arbus. Her pictures were transgressive in both their form and content. Fascinated by people whom she saw as living bizarre lives — transvestites, people with learning disabilities, the homeless — she photographed them as strange and mysterious.
Arbus was born Diane Nemerov in New York City. Her childhood was a privileged one: her family owned a large department store on Fifth Avenue, and she lived in a grand apartment overlooking Central Park. In later life she was to say that her cosseted upbringing spurred her on to seek out excitement and danger in the real world.
In 1941 she married Allan Arbus and together they set up a photography studio, producing fashion shoots for Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and Glamour. In 1956 she began studying with the Austrian-American photographer Lisette Model, whose psychologically-charged depictions of people living on the fringes of society inspired Arbus to formulate a raw and unflinching aesthetic.
Arbus had an insatiable curiosity about people and how they lived. Her black-and-white portraits of anonymous individuals had a dark, formal beauty that unsettled and disturbed. One of her most famous pictures is of a young boy, face and hands contorted, holding a toy grenade in Central Park. Her pictures asked questions of the viewer about the limits of looking and the predatory nature of photography.
In 1971, having suffered depression for much of her life, Arbus committed suicide at the age of 48. A major retrospective of her work was mounted the following year by the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
When you save this search to your interests, Christie's will notify you by email when an upcoming sale includes items that match this interest.
You can save as many interests as you like, and you can edit, delete, or change your notification settings at any time.