Diane Arbus, A family on their lawn one Sunday in Westchester, N.Y. 1968© The Estate of Diane Arbus.
WINTERTHUR.- Diane Arbus (New York, 1923–1971) revolutionized the art she practiced. Her bold subject matter and photographic approach produced a body of work that is often shocking in its purity, in its steadfast celebration of things as they are. Her gift for rendering strange those things we consider most familiar, and for uncovering the familiar within the exotic, enlarges our understanding of ourselves. Arbus found most of her subjects in New York City, a place that she explored as both a known geography and as a foreign land, photographing people she discovered during the 1950s and 1960s. She was committed to photography as a medium that tangles with the facts. Her contemporary anthropology—portraits of couples, children, carnival performers, nudists, middle-class families, transvestites, zealots, eccentrics, and celebrities—stands as an allegory of the human experience, an exploration of the relationship between appearance and identity, illusion and belief, theater and reality.
This exhibition of two hundred photographs affords an opportunity to explore the origins, scope, and aspirations of a wholly original force in photography. It includes all of the artist’s iconic photographs as well as many that have never been publicly exhibited. Even the earliest examples of her work demonstrate Arbus’s distinctive sensibility through the expression on a face, someone’s posture, the character of the light, and the personal implications of objects in a room or landscape. These elements, animated by the singular relationship between the photographer and her subject, conspire to implicate the viewer with the force of a personal encounter. Diane Arbus is a key figure in the history of 20th century art. In this major retrospective we present a selection of approximately 200 photographs drawn from museum and private collections, comprised of her most famous pictures alongside other less familiar and virtually unpublished works. There are no wall texts, the hanging of the pictures is guided only by their visual flow. The final room of the exhibition (Seminar room, Grüzenstrasse 45) on the itinerary is devoted to extensive biographical and critical documentation of Diane Arbus's life and oeuvre. Despite the richness and abundance of these materials, they can still provide answers to only certain types of questions. In the artist’s own words, “A photograph is a secret about a secret. The more it tells you the less you know.”