See and Be Seen: Diane Arbus

“A photograph is a secret about a secret. The more it tells you the less you know,” said Diane Arbus (1923–71), who obsessed about the secrets of others while carefully guarding her own. Six decades after she left commercial fashion photography and began her artistic career, many of Arbus’s previously unknown secrets and photographs have finally been published.

Created to accompany an exhibition at The Met Breuer, the catalogue diane arbus: in the beginning (Yale University Press/The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2016) showcases photographs from 1956–1962, providing a prelude to the best-selling monograph from Arbus’s 1972 retrospective. Featuring over 100 images, an essay by curator Jeff Rosenheim, and notes from the museum’s archive of her personal papers and negatives, the catalogue focuses on the first seven years of Arbus’s oeuvre. Featuring children, society ladies, carnival performers, and eccentrics, these early photographs depict the development of her famously striking and evocative style.

Arthur Lubow’s meticulously researched and revealing biography Diane Arbus: Portrait of a Photographer (HarperCollins, 2016), published just weeks before the opening of the Met exhibition, provides a similar look behind the curtain shrouding the artist’s mysterious life. In 85 short chapters based on interviews, archival research, and careful study of her work, Lubow describes Arbus’s personal history, philosophy, and approach to photography.

Arbus’s art centered on a profound desire to “not only see her subjects but to be seen by them.” She often talked for hours with people she found interesting before photographing them, charming them into revealing their secrets, hopes, and dreams, waiting for the perfect shot that captured the essence of their personalities. Though plagued by illness, depression, and financial insecurity throughout her life, her inventiveness and creativity made her, as a teacher once noted, “totally original.”

“I do it because there are things that nobody would see unless I photographed them,” said Arbus in a 1968 interview. Through the vivid detail of this biography and the catalogue of dozens of previously inaccessible early works, a full portrait of one of the most celebrated and provocative artists of the 20th century can be seen at last.

All are welcome to view these books, which will be available soon in the Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. If you’re touring the museum’s exhibitions, the library is open to the public and makes a great starting point on the fourth floor. In addition to beautiful books and comfortable chairs, library visitors enjoy interesting exhibitions that feature archival manuscripts, personal papers by women artists, rare books, and artists’ books. Reference Desk staff members are always happy to answer questions and offer assistance. Open Monday–Friday, 10 a.m.–12 p.m. and 1–5 p.m.

—Kait Gilioli was the summer 2016 publications and communications/marketing intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Art Fix Friday: June 24, 2016

The Atlantic writes that women are writing the best crime novels and that their “awareness of that inside-out sort of violence” and their “more psychologically acute” stories sets them apart.

Front-Page Femmes

Iranian-born artist Bahar Behbahani finds inspiration in Persian gardens.

Los Angeles–based artist Njideka Akunyili Crosby was awarded the Prix Canson award, which includes a solo exhibition, an artist residency, and about $11,300 worth of Canson paper.

Anna Gibb’s detailed architectural drawings of cities span Hong Kong to Glasgow.

In Al-Ugh-Ories, Nicole Eisenman’s paintings “signal something different: an inkling to stop, to ‘hang out,’ to find love in one’s community.”

Mirror, Mirror … Portraits of Frida Kahlo features 57 photographs of the painter at different stages of her life.

Agnes Martin’s works create an “intimate vibration,” convey feelings of “weightlessness,” and represent the artist’s “inner visions.”

One Hyperallergic essayist follows French photographer Sophie Calle and logs her experience.

Tate Modern’s Switch House extension adds 60% more gallery space to the museum, increasing the number of works on view by women artists from 17% to 36%.

For 30 years, photographer Elaine Ling has captured mystical forms carved from stones.

Hyperallergic raves about Joanne Greenbaum’s abstract paintings and ceramic sculptures.

Jenny Holzer creates a site-specific work in Ibiza.

Artistic Noise, a program created by artist Lauren Adelman and juvenile defender Francine Sherman, offers workshops to incarcerated young people.

The Kilroys, a group of female and trans playwrights, draw attention to otherwise overlooked plays.

Rachel Whiteread’s site-specific, concrete cabin on New York’s Governors Island alludes to Henry Thoreau and “the grimmer, darker underbelly of America.”

Georgian musician Salio discusses the music industry and women artists.

Billboard interviews singer-songwriter Victoria “La Mala” Ortiz.

Actress Ellie Kemper discusses how the television show Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt was written for her.

The New Yorker and ARTnews discuss a new biography of famed photographer Diane Arbus.

NPR explores Terry McMillan’s latest novel, I Almost Forgot About You.

Five of the six artists on the shortlist for the Jarman film-art prize award are women.

Shows We Want to See

Mai-Thu Perret’s “small yet powerful exhibition” at Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas features life-size female fighters, a ceramic dog, two large eye sculptures, and a glass wall smeared with petroleum jelly. Perret’s works question “the divide between human and artwork, reality and fantasy.”

The Whitney Museum of American Art holds a retrospective of 86-year-old artist June Leaf.

Arlene Shechet’s installation at the Frick Collection pairs early-18th-century Meissen porcelains with sculptures that Shechet recently made at the same German factory.

Silt, Soot and Smut showcases Alison Saar’s works inspired by the 1927 Great Mississippi Flood.

—Emily Haight is the digital editorial assistant at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.