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Diane Arbus

Diane Arbus: First Coming

17 November - 21 December



David Zwirner and Fraenkel Gallery are pleased to announce Diane Arbus: First Coming, on view at David Zwirner’s Hong Kong location. This will be the artist’s first solo presentation in Greater China, and it will follow the September through October 2022 exhibition Cataclysm: The 1972 Diane Arbus Retrospective Revisited at David Zwirner New York, which commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of Arbus’s momentous 1972 retrospective at The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The exhibition in Hong Kong will feature a range of the artist’s photographs spanning her brief but phenomenally influential fifteen-year career.

Though widely admired and respected by other photographers and artists, Diane Arbus (1923–1971) was not well known during her lifetime. The year after her death, when the retrospective opened at The Museum of Modern Art on November 7, 1972, no one, not even Arbus’s most fervent supporters, could have predicted its profound impact on museum visitors, nor the impassioned—at times vitriolic—critical response the exhibition would generate among writers and thinkers. Even at the time, Arbus’s images were recognized for almost single-handedly helping to elevate photography to the status of fine art, paving the way for museums, collectors, and the public to embrace a previously unrecognized innate authority and power within the medium. As the New York Times critic Hilton Kramer wrote, “what Diane Arbus brought to photography was an ambition to deal with the kind of experience that had long been the province of the fictional arts—the novel, painting, poetry and films—but had traditionally been ‘off limits’ to the nonfiction documentary art of the still camera.”

The photographs that will be on view in Hong Kong feature couples, children, female impersonators, nudists, New York City pedestrians, circus performers, and celebrities, among others, reflecting the breadth of the artist’s singularly compelling portrait of humanity. Several of the images were featured in the 1972 retrospective and appear in the celebrated monograph of Arbus’s work that was published at the same time by Aperture, which has remained continuously in print since that time and has been published in five languages. Among these images are A young waitress at a nudist camp, N.J. 1963, one of many notable photographs Arbus took at nudist camps in Pennsylvania and New Jersey in the early 1960s. As critic Jacob Deschin noted early on about Arbus’s work, rather than glorifying or gawking at the naked body, “[Arbus] looks at nudity frankly, audaciously and naively, as if it were some novel phenomenon.”

Other images in the exhibition show individuals in their homes or other private spaces, alone in bars and restaurants, or on the streets and in the parks of New York. Writing about Arbus’s approach to photographing her subjects, critic Holland Cotter notes, “In the process of photographing unconventional, sometimes outre subjects, [Arbus] was training herself to detect strangeness when it occurred in a lower key, in everyday life. She would stop people on a Lower East Side street or in a park, and talk to them, and start to shoot, capturing a wide range of postures and expressions. Back in the [darkroom] she would pick one image. Was it the true one? They were all true. She usually went with the one that conveyed the … least absorbable sensation of difference.”

This exhibition also follows the September 2022 release of Diane Arbus Documents, published by David Zwirner Books and Fraenkel Gallery. Charting the reception of Arbus and her photographs through an assemblage of articles, criticism, and essays from 1967 to the present, this groundbreaking publication offers comprehensive insight into the critical conversations, as well as misconceptions, around the artist. In October 2022, Aperture announced that Diane Arbus Documents had been shortlisted for its prestigious PhotoBook Award in the category of the Photography Catalogue of the Year.

Diane Arbus (1923–1971) is one of the most original and influential artists of the twentieth century. She studied photography with Berenice Abbott, Alexey Brodovitch, and Lisette Model and had her first published photographs appear in Esquire in 1960. In 1963 and 1966 she was awarded John Simon Guggenheim Fellowships and was one of three photographers whose work was the focus of New Documents, John Szarkowski’s legendary exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1967.

A year after her death, her work was selected for inclusion in the Venice Biennale—the first photographer to be so honored. Diane Arbus Revelations, the largest retrospective of the artist’s work to date, was organized by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 2003 and traveled to museums in the United States and Europe through 2006. A major European retrospective of Arbus’s work opened at the Jeu de Paume, Paris, in October 2011 and traveled to Winterthur, Berlin, and Amsterdam through 2013. In2016, The Met Breuer hosted in the beginning, a major exhibition of Arbus’s work focusing on never-before-seen early photographs from the first seven years of her career, from 1956–1962. This show traveled to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (2017); Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires (2017); and the Hayward Gallery, London (2019). In 2018 and 2019, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC, hosted Diane Arbus: A box of ten photographs, an exhibition tracing the history of the portfolio that established the foundation for Arbus’s posthumous career. In 2020, the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, presented a solo exhibition of the artist’s work entitled Diane Arbus: Photographs, 1956–1971, which later traveled to the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk, Denmark, and Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, in 2022 and 2023.

In 2018, inaugurating their collaboration as co-representatives of the Estate of Diane Arbus, David Zwirner and Fraenkel Gallery presented the first complete presentation of Diane Arbus’s Untitled series:sixty-six images made at residences for people with developmental disabilities to which Arbus returned for picnics, dances, and at Halloween between 1969 and 1971, the last years of her life.

In 2007, The Metropolitan Museum of Art acquired the artist’s complete archive from the Estate of Diane Arbus. The collection includes hundreds of early and unique photographs by Arbus, negatives and contact prints from 7,500 rolls of film, and glassine print sleeves annotated by the artist, as well as her photography collection, library, and papers including appointment books, notebooks, correspondence, writings, and ephemera.

Nine publications, all of which remain currently in print or available, examine the artist’s work: Diane Arbus (Aperture, 1972); Magazine Work (1984); Untitled (1995); Diane Arbus Revelations (2003); Diane Arbus: A Chronology (2011); Silent Dialogues: Diane Arbus & Howard Nemerov (2015); in the beginning (2016); Diane Arbus: A box of ten photographs (2018); and Diane Arbus: Documents (2022).

In addition to numerous institutions around the world that have Arbus photographs in their collections, the ones with significant holdings are: Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; and Tate, United Kingdom, and the National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh.


17 November
21 December
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