Diane Arbus and the American Art Scene

Among the highlights in our October 22 auction of Photographs & Photographic Literature are portraits by Diane Arbus  of key figures in the American Art Scene for a 1966 story in Harper’s Bazaar. Arbus’s largest magazine assignment addressed how New York City had supplanted Paris as the epicenter of the art world.

Diane Arbus, Frank Stella, silver print, 1966.

According to The New York Times, “Arbus made most of her photographs in New York City, where she lived 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 Fifth Avenue pedestrians are among the most intimate and surprising images of the era.”

Diane Arbus, Lee Bontecou, silver print, 1966.

The story featured 12 emerging American artists including Lee Bontecou, Roy Lichtenstein, Agnes Martin, Claes Oldenburg and Frank Stella, each captured by Arbus’s honest and revealing portraiture. Six of the photographs are included in our upcoming auction, and each of the photographs is accompanied by an authentication letter from The Estate of Diane Arbus, signed and dated by Diane Arbus.

Diane Arbus, Roy Lichtenstein, silver print, 1966.

Arbus posed each artist distinctly and without artifice. They are shown in bare rooms or nondescript outdoor locations. These are intimate portraits made from the perspective of another artist.

Diane Arbus, Claes Oldenburg and his wife, Patty, silver print, 1966.

By taking a brief hiatus from her usual subjects—transvestites, hermaphrodites, little people, giants and circus performers—she removed the veil of celebrity and showed each artist as an individual with a decidedly human dimension.