Diane Arbus - Reframing Beauty: A Private Seattle Collection New York Thursday, October 7, 2021 | Phillips
  • Provenance

    Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

  • Literature

    Arbus, Sussman, Phillips, Selkirk and Rosenheim, Diane Arbus: Revelations, p. 277
    Aperture, Diane Arbus: Untitled, n.p.
    Aperture, Diane Arbus, n.p.

  • Catalogue Essay

    In 1969, Diane Arbus made the first of several trips to New Jersey to photograph the residents of various homes for the developmentally challenged; a project posthumously named Untitled. Over the previous decade, she had established her reputation for photographing individuals living on the margins of society, focusing her lens on those so often left outside of it. Arbus gravitated towards those who didn't fit in and those whose collective quirks led to communities and subcultures, be it strip clubs, nudist colonies or circuses (as seen in lot 31). With the same curiosity, she also documented the rituals and customs of more mainstream society, from beauty pageants and ballroom dance competitions to youth baseball and diaper derbies, recognizing that the peculiarities of some groups were somehow more culturally acceptable than the peculiarities of others.

    With these experiences behind her, Arbus arrived at the institutions intent on engaging with and photographing yet another overlooked segment of society. While her letters and notes on this series anecdotally address the simplicity and hardships of their lives, they also reveal a tenderness that carries through to the resulting images. In a letter to her husband Allan about turning these images into a book, she wrote, “I could do it in a year. . . it’s the first time I’ve encountered a subject where the multiplicity is the thing. I mean I am not just looking for the BEST picture of them. I want to do lots. . . And I ought to be able to write it because I really adore them.”

    Mainly captured outside on sprawling fields, as seen in the seven works from the series offered within this sale, the residents played, laughed and posed for Arbus; hidden behind masks for Halloween (as seen in lots 35-37 and 39) and smiling brightly in their best attire for Easter (lot 40). There is irony in this, that these images of unbridled joy in a community so challenged constituted Arbus' final project, but there is undeniable beauty in the timeless empathy of the work. Examined through the lens of contemporary discourse regarding the representation and voices of marginalized groups, Arbus’s Untitled series could not be more relevant. Over 50 years later, these photographs remain poignant examples of the power of looking beyond the boundaries that separate us, be they physical, emotional or intellectual.

  • Artist Biography

    Diane Arbus

    American • 1923 - 1971

    Transgressing traditional boundaries, Diane Arbus is known for her highly desirable, groundbreaking portraiture taken primarily in the American Northeast during the late 1950s and 1960s. Famous for establishing strong personal relationships with her subjects, Arbus' evocative images capture them in varied levels of intimacy. Whether in their living rooms or on the street, their surreal beauty transcends the common distance found in documentary photography.

    Taken as a whole, Arbus' oeuvre presents the great diversity of American society — nudists, twins, babies, beauty queens and giants — while each distinct image brings the viewer into contact with an exceptional individual brought to light through Arbus' undeniable genius. 

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Reframing Beauty: A Private Seattle Collection


Untitled (4)

Gelatin silver print, printed later by Neil Selkirk.
13 1/4 x 13 1/4 in. (33.7 x 33.7 cm)
Stamped 'A Diane Arbus photograph,' signed, titled, dated, numbered 47/75 by Doon Arbus, Executor, in ink, estate copyright credit and reproduction limitation stamps on the verso.

$8,000 - 12,000 

Sold for $15,120

Contact Specialist

Caroline Deck
Senior Specialist
+1 212 940 1247


Vanessa Hallett
Deputy Chairwoman, Americas and Worldwide Head of Photographs
+1 212 940 1243

Reframing Beauty: A Private Seattle Collection

New York Auction 7 October 2021