diane arbus: in the beginning at The Met Breuer, July 12 – November 27, 2016

“Diane Arbus (American, 1923–1971) made most of her photographs in New York City, where she was born and died, and where she worked in locations such as Times Square, the Lower East Side, and Coney Island. Her photographs of children and eccentrics, couples and circus performers, female impersonators and midtown shoppers, are among the most intimate, surprising, and haunting works of art of the twentieth century.

“diane arbus: in the beginning” explores the first seven years of Arbus’s career, from 1956 to 1962. It primarily features pictures made with 35mm cameras, which she used almost exclusively until 1962, when she began to work with a 2¼-inch square-format Rolleiflex. By design, the exhibition does not make use of sequential galleries, nor is it organized thematically: visitors are free to follow any path they choose as there are only beginnings—no middle and probably no end.

From the start, Arbus saw the street as a place full of secrets waiting to be fathomed. Even in her earliest studies of pedestrians, her subjects seem magically, if just momentarily, freed from the flux and turmoil of their surroundings. The result is a singular look of introspection. In reacting to Arbus, individuals are revealed almost as if they were alone, catching a brief glimpse of themselves in a shop window or a mirror. The exchange on both sides of the camera—of seeing and being seen— raises existential questions in the subject, questions that ultimately transmit themselves to the viewer.” — Introductory Wall Text

Diane Arbus. The Backwards Man in his hotel room, N.Y.C. 1961.

The Backwards Man in his hotel room, N.Y.C. 1961 © The Estate of Diane Arbus, LLC. All Rights Reserved

Diane Arbus. Jack Dracula at a bar, New London, Conn. 1961.

Jack Dracula at a bar, New London, Conn. 1961 © The Estate of Diane Arbus, LLC. All Rights Reserved

Diane Arbus. Lady on a bus, N.Y.C. 1957.

Lady on a bus, N.Y.C. 1957 © The Estate of Diane Arbus, LLC. All Rights Reserved

Diane Arbus. Female impersonator holding long gloves, Hempstead, L.I. 1959.

Female impersonator holding long gloves, Hempstead, L.I. 1959 © The Estate of Diane Arbus, LLC. All Rights Reserved

Diane Arbus. Man in hat, trunks, socks and shoes, Coney Island, N.Y. 1960.

Man in hat, trunks, socks and shoes, Coney Island, N.Y. 1960 © The Estate of Diane Arbus, LLC. All Rights Reserved

Diane Arbus. Taxicab driver at the wheel with two passengers, N.Y.C. 1956.

Taxicab driver at the wheel with two passengers, N.Y.C. 1956 © The Estate of Diane Arbus, LLC. All Rights Reserved

Diane Arbus. Kid in a hooded jacket aiming a gun, N.Y.C. 1957.

Kid in a hooded jacket aiming a gun, N.Y.C. 1957 © The Estate of Diane Arbus, LLC. All Rights Reserved

Diane Arbus. Elderly woman whispering to her dinner partner, Grand Opera Ball, N.Y.C. 1959.

Elderly woman whispering to her dinner partner, Grand Opera Ball, N.Y.C. 1959 © The Estate of Diane Arbus, LLC. All Rights Reserved

Diane Arbus. Boy stepping off the curb, N.Y.C. 1957–58.

Boy stepping off the curb, N.Y.C. 1957–58 © The Estate of Diane Arbus, LLC. All Rights Reserved

Diane Arbus. Woman with white gloves and a pocket book, N.Y.C. 1956.

Woman with white gloves and a pocket book, N.Y.C. 1956 © The Estate of Diane Arbus, LLC. All Rights Reserved

Diane Arbus. Fire Eater at a carnival, Palisades Park, N.J. 1957.

Fire Eater at a carnival, Palisades Park, N.J. 1957 © The Estate of Diane Arbus, LLC. All Rights Reserved

Exhibition images courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Installation photo by Corrado Serra for Arts Summary.