It is a little agonous, a thousand misses but when it all of a sudden works I recognize it is what I wanted without precisely knowing I wanted anything. I am like someone who gets excellent glasses because of a slight defect in eyesight and puts Vaseline on them to make it more like he normally sees. —Diane Arbus1
Inaugurating their collaboration as co-representatives of The Estate of Diane Arbus, David Zwirner and Fraenkel Gallery are pleased to announce the first complete presentation of Diane Arbus’s Untitled series. The sixty-six images were made at residences for people with developmental disabilities, places Arbus repeatedly returned to for picnics, for dances, and at Halloween between 1969 and 1971, the last years of her life. On view at David Zwirner’s 537 West 20th Street location, the presentation will include several images that have never before been exhibited.
The Untitled photographs—direct, enigmatic portraits of the residents of these facilities—are a radical departure from the bold, confrontational images upon which Arbus’s formidable reputation largely stands. The experience of photographing and the resulting work were a revelation for Arbus: "FINALLY what I’ve been searching for,"2 she wrote at the time. Arbus made many of the images outdoors, in natural light, both with and without a flash. The results are strangely lyrical, even tender, documenting a world possessed of its own rituals and codes of conduct that remain somehow mesmerizingly familiar.
Critic Hilton Als has noted of the series: "The singularity of Arbus’s vision is the over-all theme of ‘Untitled’ … These photographs … can’t be confined by critical categorization, because they are purely ecstatic; they are the pictures Arbus had been waiting all her life to take. It’s as if the most remarkable images she produced in the early sixties … were faint talismans leading Arbus to this final study, in which her justly renowned control cannot compete with the unconscious power of her subjects."3 The Untitled images resonate with an innocence that belies the mastery at the root of their creation.
In 1969, as her project began to take shape, Arbus wrote her husband, Allan: "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."4 Though Arbus had contemplated making a book of these photographs, the majority of them remained unknown until 1995, more than twenty years after her death, when Aperture published Diane Arbus: Untitled. Since then, a number of these photographs have been featured in exhibitions and publications of Arbus’s work, including the celebrated 2003 retrospective Diane Arbus Revelations. Until now, the sixty-six works have never been presented in their entirety.
1 Diane Arbus in a letter to Allan Arbus, circa 1969, quoted in Sandra S. Phillips, "The Question of Belief," in Diane Arbus Revelations (New York: Random House, 2003), pp. 64, 66.
2 Diane Arbus in a letter to Allan Arbus, dated November 28, 1969, included in Elisabeth Sussman and Doon Arbus, "A Chronology," in Diane Arbus Revelations, p. 203.
3 Hilton Als, "Unmasked: A Different Kind of Collection from Diane Arbus," The New Yorker (November 27, 1995), pp. 95–96.
4 Diane Arbus in a letter to Allan Arbus, circa 1969, quoted in Phillips, "The Question of Belief," p. 64.