NEW YORK - The Metropolitan Museum of Art announced today that it has acquired the complete archive of Diane Arbus (1923-1971), the legendary American photographer known for her revelatory portraits of couples, children, nudists, carnival performers, and eccentrics. The Estate of Diane Arbus has selected the Museum to be the permanent repository of the artist’s negatives, papers, correspondence, and library. The Museum will collaborate with the Estate to preserve Arbus’s legacy and to ensure that her work will continue to be seen in the context of responsible scholarship and in a manner that honors the subjects of the photographs and the intentions of the artist.
The Estate’s gifts and promised gifts to the Museum include hundreds of early and unique photographs by Arbus, negatives and contact prints of 7,500 rolls of film, glassine print sleeves annotated by the artist, as well as her photography collection, library, and personal papers including appointment books, notebooks, correspondence, writings, and ephemera. The entire collection - which will be preserved, fully catalogued, and eventually made available for research to scholars, artists, and the general public – will be known as The Diane Arbus Archive.
The Museum has also purchased twenty of Diane Arbus’s most iconic photographs, including such masterpieces as Russian midget friends in a living room on 100th Street, N.Y.C., 1963, and Woman with a veil on Fifth Avenue, N.Y.C., 1968.
Chosen to complement the Metropolitan’s noteworthy photography collection, the prints range in date from her earliest 35mm street photographs – such as Masked boy with friends, Coney Island, N.Y., 1956 – to one of her last pictures, Blind couple in their bedroom, Queens, N.Y., 1971.
Philippe de Montebello, Director of the Metropolitan Museum, stated: “These remarkable acquisitions will establish the Museum as the center for scholarship on Diane Arbus, and go to the heart of our mission to collect, preserve, study, and exhibit the highest achievements of artists from antiquity to our own age. The Museum is grateful that the artist’s estate has entrusted the Metropolitan with the stewardship of Diane Arbus’s legacy.”
Many of the original materials in The Diane Arbus Archive were featured in Diane Arbus Revelations, the traveling exhibition (2003-2006) that was organized by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art with the artist’s estate and presented at the Metropolitan Museum in spring 2005. As Doon Arbus, the artist’s elder daughter, wrote in the accompanying publication’s afterword, she and her sister Amy “kept an awful lot of stuff, partly out of diligence, or superstition, partly out of reverence for the kind of history that survives more or less intact in objects.” These items, the residue of the artist’s life, will be used by this and future generations to trace the evolution of the photographer’s visual ideas through a parallel understanding of the individuals and cultural conditions that molded and stimulated that development.
Jeff L. Rosenheim, Curator in the Museum’s Department of Photographs, will oversee the long-term effort to fully catalogue and preserve the collection, and to develop plans for future exhibitions and publications. He noted: “It is rare in any field that one of its greatest practitioners should leave behind her entire output.
Because this is the case with Diane Arbus, as it was with Walker Evans, whose personal archive came to the Museum in 1994, the Metropolitan will now have the opportunity to map the creativity of two great artists in the most complete way. The Diane Arbus Archive will provide a contextual understanding of Arbus’s stunning achievement with the camera, and simultaneously offer fundamental insight into what it means to be an artist in modern times.”