Exhibition dates: 9th May – 31st August, 2009
“A photograph is a secret about a secret. The more it tells you, the less you know.”
‘Tattooed Man at a Carnival, Md.,’
I have collected some photographs from the exhibition mainly from the ‘Box of Ten’ 1971 that features in the show.
Diane Arbus is one of my favourite photographs – how I would love to see this show!
“One of National Museum Cardiff’s main art exhibitions in 2009 reveals the work of legendary New York photographer Diane Arbus (1923 -1971), who transformed the art of photography. ‘Diane Arbus’, which comprises 69 black and white photographs including the rare and important portfolio of ten vintage prints: ‘Box of Ten’, 1971, is one of the best collections of Arbus’s work in existence. A large selection of these images will be on display at the Museum from 9 May until 31 August 2009.
Capturing 1950s and 1960s America, Arbus is renowned for portraits of people who were then classed on the outskirts of society nudists, transvestites, circus performers and zealots. In one of her most famous works, ‘Identical Twins, Roselle, NJ’ of 1967, the twins are photographed as if joined at the shoulder and hip with only three arms between them.
Her powerful, sometimes controversial, images often frame the familiar as strange and the strange or exotic as familiar. This singular vision and her ability to engage in such an uncompromising way with her subjects has made Arbus one of the most important and influential photographers of the twentieth century.
This singular vision and her ability to engage in such an uncompromising way with her subjects has made Arbus one of the most important and influential photographers of the twentieth century.”
Text from the National Museum of Cardiff website
‘A young man with curlers at home on West 20th Street, N.Y.C.,’
‘A family on their lawn one Sunday in Westchester, N.Y.,’
‘A Jewish Giant at home with his parents’
“From 1969 to 1971 Arbus was absorbed in the creation of a limited edition portfolio, A box of ten photographs. The portfolio was intended to present her work as an artist in the manner of the special print editions offered by new artists’ presses such as Crown Point and Universal Limited Art Editions (ULAE). This group of pictures and its presentation was a very conscious statement of what she stood for, and how she regarded her own photography. The pictures range from the relatively early ones of the Nudists in their summer home and Xmas tree in a living room in Levittown, L.I., both of 1963; through the now iconic Identical twins, Roselle, N.J., 1967 and Westchester Couple sunning themselves on their lawn, to the later pictures of the Jewish giant, the Mexican Dwarf in his hotel room, N.Y.C. and the King and Queen of a senior citizens’ dance, N.Y.C., all of 1970. There is clearly an attempt to be representative of the general idea, the larger plan behind her work. There is also a significant stylistic range, from the graceful daylight in the picture of the older couple in the nudist camp, to the later picture of the elderly king and queen, whom she photographed with sharp flash. She included Xmas tree, a work without human subjects. The prints for this portfolio were selected three years after the New Documents exhibition, before there was thought of another show. But the pictures constituted a kind of exhibition in and of themselves, to be examined one at a time, rather than all at once. From her letters, we know that the idea of a clear box was very important; it was to serve as both a container and a display case allowing the owner to reorder and display the pictures easily. Just as she had wanted the black border of the print to show in the New Documents exhibition, here she wished to exhibit the entire print as it appeared on the photographic paper …
‘Mexican Dwarf in his hotel room, N.Y.C.,’
‘Xmas tree in a living room in Levittown, L.I.,’
Most of the pictures in the portfolio either depict families or refer to the family. Even the corner of the cellophane-looking room in Levittown is made by peering over the two outstretched arms of a family armchair, posed like the trousered knees of the empty chair in the picture of the Jewish giant. The idea of the family album was a private but expressive metaphor for her. As in a family album, each member is part of the larger group; they are related, perhaps even tolerated, and harmony may be rare and perhaps even uninteresting. But they are all considered with the same intelligent and human regard. She photographed the Jewish giant as a mythic figure, enclosed in a modest Bronx living room, an unconventional member of an otherwise conventional family: ‘I know a Jewish giant who lives in Washington Heights or the Bronx with his little parents. He is tragic with a curious bitter somewhat stupid wit. The parents are orthodox and repressive and classic and disapprove of his carnival career…They are truly a metaphorical family. When he stands with his arms around each he looks like he would gladly crush them. They fight terribly in an utterly typical fashion which seems only exaggerated by their tragedy… Arrogant, anguished, even silly.’“
Sandra S. Phillips, senior curator of photography at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art from the book Diane Arbus Revelations.1
‘Identical twins, Roselle, N.J.,’
‘King and Queen of a senior citizens’ dance, N.Y.C.,’
1. Phillips, Sandra. “The Question of Belief,” in Diane Arbus Revelations. London: Random House, 2003, pp. 66-67.
National Museum of Wales, Cardiff
Cathays Park, Cardiff CF10 3NP
Opening hours: Tues – Sunday, 10 – 5pm