Amazing exhibition of Diane Arbus photographs
Met Breuer - 12 July-27 November

12 July - 27 November
Met Breuer - 2nd Floor
Diane Arbus:  In the Beginning contains over 100 photographs of Arbus's photographs, many never before displayed anywhere.  This wonderful exhibit focuses on 1956-62, the first seven years of her career--the period in which, as the Met's website puts it, "she developed the idiosyncratic style and approach for which she has been recognized, praised, criticized, and copied the world over."

Jeff Rosenheim, Curator in Charge of the Department of Photographs, wrote:
Arbus's early photographs are wonderfully rich in achievement and perhaps as quietly riveting and ultimately controversial as the iconic images for which she is so widely known. She brings us face-to-face with what she had first glimpsed at the age of 16-'the divineness in ordinary things'-and through her photographs we begin to see it too.

The Met seems to be taking full advantage of Marcel Breuer's magnificent 1966 building. 

In a way the Whitney(for whom Breuer designed and built this 5th Avenue building) never fully did, the Met is utilizing its incredible spaces to real advantage.  This exhibition opens the second floor gallery space, and draws one into the exhibition by placing each photograph on a separate vertical panel, arranged so as to create horizontal sight lines into the space.

The panels are arranged in alternating rows: in the first, the surfaces are evenly spaced; in the second, every other vertical element is omitted, creating internal areas that draw one even further into the space of the exhibition.  One such sight line actually draws one's attention to one of Breuer's magnificent windows.  (The photograph below was not taken during the exhibition, but captures the shape and feel of the windows.   In this photo, Sheena Wagstaff, the curator in charge of the Met Breuer, is pictured standing in the largest of these windows.)

The met is even taking advantage of Breuer's coffered ceilings, in a way that never seemed to have occurred to its former owners:  each vertical panel is suspended by metal brackets from the ceiling coffers--both structurally making the overall effect of the exhibit possible, and drawing attention to the beautiful ceiling itself.
I had not thought I would like this way of displaying the photographs, but I found it extremely effective and very aesthetically pleasing.  The one negative is that the draw of the space--and the power of the images in it--pull one in in a manner not particularly systematic:  it is extremely pleasing and organic; but, if you want to be sure to see every image, you'll need to move more methodically along the rows of panels to be certain you have not missed anything.  Also easily missed are the Diane Arbus quotations, placed high on a very few of the panels in lettering that does not provide much contrast.  They are easy to miss if you do not know they are there...but they are thrilling to discover!
And the work simply MUST go see it!

Rather than describe these wonderful photographs, I'm just going to include images of a few of them to entice you to see the exhibit in person.  (There was also a very good article in the NYTimes on 14 July by by Holland Cotter with many more images from the show: " Previously Unseen Arbus, Unearthed Years After Her Death.")

One last word, pointed out to me by photographer  David Godlis with whom I saw this wonderful show:  Arbus's captions for her photographs are amazing in and of themselves.  They seem to just be a listing of descriptions; but there is something poetically odd and entrancing about what she chooses to mention and what she doesn't in these captions.

Diane Arbus's "Man in hat, trunks, socks and shoes, Coney Island, N.Y. 1960."
Girl with a pointy hood and white schoolbag at the curb, N.Y.C., 1957.
Little man biting woman's breast, N.Y.C., 1958.



Old woman with hands raised in the ocean, Coney Island, N.Y., 1960.

Child teasing another, N.Y.C., 1960.

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that has over 265 kinds of cheese."
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