Go See: Cardiff, Wales – Diane Arbus at the Cardiff National Gallery, through August 31, 2009

June 11th, 2009

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Diane Arbus, “Identical Twins” (1962) via Fine Art Photography Masters

From May 9 to August 31, Cardiff’s National Museum’s main exhibit will reveal the work of legendary New York photographer Diane Arbus (1923-1971).  The retrospective exhibit is comprised of 69 black and white photographs, including the rare portfolio of ten vintage prints, “Box of Ten,” which Arbus began assembling in 1969.  This limited edition portfolio, which was intended to present her work as an artist, constitutes a conscious statement of what she stood for and how she regarded her own photography.  Arbus’ photography, marrying the conventions of 19th century portraiture with the seamy concerns of the 1960s, remains startling today.

Related links:
Diane Arbus at the National Museum Cardiff
[Financial Times]
Diane Arbus Exhibition Page [National Museum Wales]
Exhibition Preview: Diane Arbus, Cardiff [Guardian UK]
Diane Arbus: a Flash of Familiarity [Telegraph]
Exhibition of Legendary Photographer Diane Arbus’ Work to be Displayed at National Museum Cardiff [Art Daily]

Arbus’ work offers evidence of her deep investment in the people that inhabit them – even when she was photographing out in the world rather than in a staged setting, her subjects were aware of the presence of her camera.  She would often befriend her subjects, sometimes continuing to visit certain of them for several years and only photographing them once she was a familiar presence.  Her pictures depend on the subjects’ active participation – it is the frank, direct gaze of the people she photographs, rather than their physical oddities, that constitutes the most disturbing element of Arbus’ portraits.

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Diane Arbus, “Mexican Dwarf in his Hotel Room” (1970) via Fine Arts Photography Masters

Arbus balances her emotional investment in her subjects with a documentary photographer’s interest in the apparently accidental but telling detail.  She does not romanticize her subjects once she finds them; rather, her work reveals her sympathy for the frailties and imperfections of society.

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Diane Arbus, “Loser at a Diaper Derby, N.J.” (1967) via Fine Arts Photography Masters

Diane Arbus, born Diane Nemerov, was the daughter of an upper middle-class Jewish family that owned a Fifth Avenue clothing store.  She became involved in photography around the time of her marriage to Allan Arbus in 1941, as the success of their professional partnership in fashion photography encouraged her to pursue her own work.  Arbus continued to pursue both commercial work, producing portraits for magazines such as Harper’s Bazaar or Esquire, and non-commercial portraits of the bizarre and the marginal, framing the familiar as strange and the exotic or bizarre as familiar.  She was awarded Guggenheim fellowships in 1961 and 1963, and has been the subject of several major retrospectives both before and after her suicide in July 1971.

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Diane Arbus, “Girl in a Watch Cap, N.Y.C” (1965) via Christie’s

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Diane Arbus, “Tattooed Man at a Carnival, MD” (1970) via Fine Arts Photography Masters