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.

“Puzzle de Brasil”: A Topographical Tourist Map

While the 2016 Rio Olympic Games encourage development in Brazil and bolster the country’s worldwide reputation, NMWA’s Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center (LRC) is showing a work that also revels in Brazilian pride. Priya Pereira’s artist book Puzzle de Brasil, originally published in 2001, is on view in Priya Pereira: Contemporary Artists’ Books from India. This moveable puzzle book celebrating Brazilian culture is on display in the LRC until November 18, 2016.

Book artist Priya Pereira

Book artist Priya Pereira

Pereira’s Puzzle de Brasil explores the country’s most notable cultural, political, and ecological wonders through interactive screen-printed and hand-sewn cardboard flaps. Printed on each flap is a boldfaced word or icon illuminating aspects of the Brazilian experience. In particular, Pereira references Brazil’s love of football (soccer) by including the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) logo. Viewers can detect mentions of Ipanema and the Metropolitan Cathedral, as well as illustrations of the samba and anacondas.

When handling the book, readers often devise their own methods of unfolding the complex, layered flaps. When lifted and manipulated in certain ways, Puzzle de Brasil’s moveable components can create a flat or three-dimensional artist’s book. With its cardboard base adorned with long strands of colored text and raised flaps, the book serves as a topographical tourist map—representative of Brazil’s complex geography. In this way, the work’s structure portrays the country as a mix of flatlands, jungles, mountains, and rivers.

Priya Pereira, Puzzle de Brazil, interior, 2001; Artist's book published by Pixie Bks

Puzzle de Brasil, interior, 2001; Artist’s book published by Pixie Bks

Pereira’s choice to embellish her work with blue, yellow, and green mirrors the colors of the Brazilian flag. Three overarching “tiers” each correspond with one of the flag’s three colors. The interactive book encourages readers to unfold the flaps in a blue-yellow-green order. Pereira says, “Open left to right, right to left, north to south, or vice-versa. One clue: follow the colors of Brazil—blue, yellow, and green to make it easy for you.” Pereira’s vibrant and complex book reveals some of Brazil’s cultural treasures and allows viewers to develop a deeper appreciation for the country.

Visit NMWA’s Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center to see a selection of Priya Pereira’s books. Located on the museum’s the fourth floor, the LRC is open Monday–Friday, 10 a.m.–12 p.m. and 1–5 p.m.

—Emily Benoff is the summer 2016 Library and Research Center intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Wordplay and Whimsy: Priya Pereira’s Book Art

NMWA’s Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center (LRC) currently features an exhibition showcasing works by book Mumbai-based artist Priya Pereira. The artist explores Indian culture, history, time, and language in her contemporary creations. Ten of her books will be on display until November 18, 2016.

Book artist Priya Pereira; Photo: Meenal Agarwal

Book artist Priya Pereira; Photo: Meenal Agarwal

Pereira received her training in graphic design from Maharaja Sayajirao University in Bardoa, Western India. After graduating, she worked for five years in advertising, which later came to inform her artistic mindset. Pereira says, “Having studied graphic design and thanks to advertising, I came to artists’ books from a place where ‘idea’ was the most important thing… The most thrilling part is coming up with an idea.” In 1993 she moved to the United States to study computer art at Memphis College of Art. In a papermaking class at school, she learned about book binding and began creating book art—a genre she did not know existed until years later.

Pereira returned to India and continued to create books: innovative, vibrant works of art. Beyond using traditional materials like paper and string, Pereira incorporates mirrored surfaces and iron. Her books prompt viewers to rethink the medium’s limits. Whimsical, bold—even comical—her work tackles the complexities of contemporary life in India. The artist cites “living and breathing in India” as a major source of her artistic inspiration.

In one work, The Book of F (1999), the artist uses wordplay and humor. Each page of the small book has short lyrics composed of words that start with F. Pereira describes it as “dotted with ditties that popularize the ‘F’ word without once mentioning the most used and abused word.”

Priya Pereira, The Other Side of ABC, interior, 2003; Artist's book published by Pixie Bks, Photo: Lee Stalsworth

Priya Pereira, The Other Side of ABC, interior, 2003; Artist’s book published by Pixie Bks, Photo: Lee Stalsworth

NMWA’s exhibition also features a set of booklets titled The Other Side of ABC (2003). Their structure and composition recall that of a child’s toy. Pereira explains, “The structure of the book is based on a street toy sold by the wandering balloon sellers along with plastic watches and other cheap toys. The original toy is not an alphabet book, but has pictures of different fruits, modes of transportation, et cetera, and in the center is a piece of glass, not a mirror as I have used.” The interiors of Pereira’s booklets reveal depictions of Indian street art as well as letters surrounding the mirrors.

Priya Pereira has published limited-edition works under the imprint Pixie Bks for the last 23 years. Visit NMWA’s Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center to see a selection of the artist’s books, and use an in-gallery iPad to scroll through the pages of ditties in The Book of F. Located on the museum’s the fourth floor, the LRC is open Monday–Friday, 10 a.m.–12 p.m. and 1–5 p.m.

—Casey Betts is the summer 2016 digital engagement intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Recent Acquisitions at the LRC: Spirit of Caesar, Soul of a Woman?

The next time you visit NMWA, come to the Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center to see new books on women in the arts, as well as reference books, artists’ books, and more.

Artemisia Gentileschi: The Language of Painting
by Jesse M. Locker
Yale University Press, 2015

Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1653) is perhaps the best-known female artist of the Renaissance. Her early life and works have been discussed extensively by scholars, and she is presented as an empowered woman—an evocative figure in the art historical canon. The artist once proclaimed, “You will find the spirit of Caesar in the soul of a woman.”

The cover of Jesse M. Locker's Artemisia Gentileschi: The Language of Paints

The cover of Jesse M. Locker’s Artemisia Gentileschi: The Language of Painting

Strangely, very little has been written about Gentileschi’s later years. Existing research predominantly frames her artistic career around the highly publicized trial that followed her alleged rape by one of her father’s studio assistants. Art historians have generally neglected to explore her success in the years afterward. Locker analyzes Gentileschi from a fresh approach in her book Artemisia Gentileschi: The Language of Painting. Instead of concentrating on the artist’s early life, Locker examines the artist’s mature years, her poetry, and her passionate love affair with Florentine nobleman Francesco Maria Maringhi.

Gentileschi’s later years were, arguably, the high point of her career. Later works such as Christ and the Samaritan Woman differ in style from her earlier creations, featuring more vivid color. Such paintings, Locker asserts, are more representative of the Gentileschi that scholars and art enthusiasts admire, and they were also better received in her lifetime.

Artemisia Gentileschi, Christ and the Samaritan Woman, 1637

Artemisia Gentileschi, Christ and the Samaritan Woman, 1637

In a noteworthy departure from other scholarly texts, Locker includes Gentileschi’s poetry. Although she had a weak grasp of grammar and spelling, Gentileschi’s poetry was well-regarded by notable literary figures, including Michelangelo. Venetian writers composed poems and letters praising Gentileschi as a figure worthy of remembrance.

Locker’s project contextualizes Gentileschi and her works and challenges prevailing assumptions about the artist’s life and personality. Her book makes considerable contributions to the field of Renaissance studies. Most importantly, it reintroduces us to an artist often pigeonholed by scholars by shining a light on obscured parts of her oeuvre, writing, and relationships with literati. With Artemisia Gentileschi: The Language of Painting, Locker presents a more complete portrait of the artist, as evocative and intriguing as ever.

You can find this book, along with other fantastic reads, on the wall display in the LRC’s reading room. If you’re touring the museum’s exhibitions, the library makes a great starting point on the fourth floor. In addition to beautiful books and comfy reading chairs, visitors enjoy interesting exhibitions that feature artists’ books, archival manuscripts, and rare books. Reference Desk staff members are always happy to answer questions and offer assistance. Open Monday–Friday, 10 a.m.–noon and 1–5 p.m.

—Bianca Rawlings is an intern at the Library and Research Center. She is currently pursuing a Master of Arts degree in art history with a concentration in late Italian Renaissance and Baroque art, focusing on issues of gender, representation, and marginalization.