Teenage couple on Hudson Street, N.Y.C. ©1963 The Estate of Diane Arbus LLC
A new show at Timothy Taylor should help to dispel this myth, which lingers despite the four decades that separate us from Arbus' suicide. In this retrospective, which spans her whole career, the "aristocrats" are on display, certainly, each framed with the arresting glare of a photographer who spent a lifetime finding herself in those divorced from the everyday world. Yet the confidence these subjects display is brash, at times unsettling, a wordly understanding that reaches across the years. This being a selling show, the gallery has taken a generalist approach, making it the ideal introduction for those unfamiliar with Arbus — though many will no doubt be acquainted with one of her best-known photographs, the gurning boy in Central Park holding a toy grenade, which is included.
The show's revelation is the lesser known late-period work, shot in the earlier Seventies, in which Arbus photographed residents at homes for those with development disabilities. Her approach is best summed up by one photograph featuring a trio of women: the central character's head appears burrowed into the ground while her companion laughs raucously, at once twinning the two most common reactions to mental disease and demanding of the viewer a reaction that's not always comfortable. It perfectly sums up Arbus' often imitated but seldom equalled style.