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Diane Arbus works join the AGO Collection

June 26th, 2017

Diane Arbus, American, 1923–1971. Jack Dracula lying by a tree, N.Y.C., 1961., 1961; printed 1961. Gelatin silver print. Sheet: 27.9 × 35.6 cm (11 × 14 in.). Image: 16.8 × 23.5 cm (6 5/8 × 9 1/4 in.). Collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario, Gift of Phil Lind, 2016. Copyright © The Estate of Diane Arbus, LLC.

Flashback to our hit 2016 exhibition Outsiders: American Photography and Film, 1950s–1980s. A stand-out of that show was photographer Diane Arbus (1923–1971), one of the most widely recognized names in 20th century art. Remember these?


Diane Arbus, American, 1923 –1971. Female impersonators in mirrors, N.Y.C., 1958., 1958. Gelatin silver print, printed by Neil Selkirk. Sheet: 35.6 × 27.9 cm (14 × 11 in.) Image: 23.7× 15.9 cm (9 5/16 × 6 1/4 in.). Collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario, Gift of Sandra Simpson, 2016. Copyright © The Estate of Diane Arbus, LLC.


Diane Arbus, American, 1923 –1971. Woman with veil on Fifth Avenue, N.Y.C., 1968., 1968. Gelatin silver print, printed by Neil Selkirk. Sheet: 50.8 × 40.6 cm (20 × 16 in.) Mat: 61 × 55.9 cm (24 × 22 in.) Collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario, Anonymous gift, 2016. Copyright © The Estate of Diane Arbus, LLC.

Great news: the AGO has acquired 522 Arbus photographs from her estate, marking a major addition to our growing photography collection. This significant group of works spans Arbus’s career, and includes a number of rarely seen and unpublished images. In fact, we now hold the largest Arbus collection in Canada, and the second largest in the world (after the Met in NYC).

According to AGO Director and CEO Stephan Jost, Arbus is “one of those rare artists who becomes more, not less relevant, with time.”

Among the less well-known images in the collection are Arbus’s early photographs from the mid-1950s. These include works such as Female impersonators in mirrors, N.Y.C., 1958 and Victorious wrestler in the ring, N.Y.C., 1957. While many of these prints were made by Arbus, others remained unprinted and unseen during her lifetime.

We also acquired her photographs for magazines such as Esquire, Harper’s Bazaar, and The New York Times Magazine, which Arbus began in 1960 and continued to her death in 1971. She made many portraits, for these and other publications, of celebrities and luminaries like James Brown, Mia Farrow, Coretta Scott King, Norman Mailer, Marcello Mastroianni, Eugene McCarthy and Mae West.

The AGO is committed to building a collection of photographs that reflects the artistic, historical and social impact of the medium. Carefully stewarded by Maia-Mari Sutnik, Curator Emerita of Photography and former AGO Curator of Photography and Special Projects, and Sophie Hackett, current AGO Curator of Photography, the Gallery’s collection has grown to one of significance—both in number and distinction—that spans the history of photography from the 1840s to the present day. Our holdings explore not only historical photography but also the broader scope of the medium and the key role it has played in our visual culture – making our photography collection one of the first in a fine arts museum to openly embrace a mandate like this.

Can’t wait to see these compelling images? We can’t wait to show them to you! Stay tuned to AGOinsider and you’ll be the first to know when the works will go on display. In the meantime, our new photography gallery is open, and the Look:Forward reinstallation project will see a rotation coming soon – so hurry in to see it now. The AGO Collection is included in general admission, and AGO Members always see it free.

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