NEW YORK—The Metropolitan Museum of Art has received a major gift of Diane Arbus archival material from the photographer’s estate, it was announced on Dec. 18. Additionally, the Met has purchased 20 of the artist’s most important images, including Woman with a Veil on Fifth Avenue, N.Y.C., 1968, and Russian Midget Friends in a Living Room on 100th Street, N.Y.C., 1963, for approximately $5 million. The photos, dated from 1956 to 1971, the year that Arbus committed suicide, were acquired from the Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco, which represents the Arbus estate.
The Arbus archival material includes 7,500 rolls of film, hundreds of photographs and negatives, correspondence, diaries, appointment books and family pictures. These were donated by the artist’s two daughters, Amy and Doon, both as gifts and as promised gifts.
Jeff L. Rosenheim, curator of photography at the Met, told ARTnewsletter he first encountered this archival material in 2003, through an exhibition of the artist’s work titled “Diane Arbus Revelations”; assembled by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, it traveled to the Met in 2005.
“This was wonderful material that gave great meaning to the objects,” Rosenheim recalls. He notes that his questions to Amy and Doon about the future of the trove prompted a dialogue leading to the recently announced gift.
The archives will be catalogued and made available to researchers in the same manner that scholars of Walker Evans have been able to look through his archives at the Met since 1994. The museum also plans to collaborate with the Arbus estate in holding future exhibitions.
Although the Met simultaneously announced the donation of the archives and its own Arbus acquisitions, both gallery owner Jeffrey Fraenkel and Rosenheim call the timing coincidental.
“We’ve looked at our photography collection, trying to identify places where we were weak,” Rosenheim explains. Works by Arbus, as well as by Robert Frank, Lee Friedlander and Garry Winogrand, among others, are areas of collecting interest, he says, noting that “it took about a year to raise the money” to purchase the Arbus photographs.