Diane Arbus: A Box of Ten Photographs

The Diane Arbus portfolio that cemented photography's art status (1969-1973)

In late 1969, Diane Arbus (March 14, 1923 – July 26, 1971) began work on a portfolio that would pull together images made from negatives that dated from 1962 to 1970. At the time of her death in 1971, she had completed the printing for eight known sets of A box of ten photographs, of a planned edition of fifty, only four of which she sold during her lifetime. Two were purchased by photographer Richard Avedon; another by artist Jasper Johns. A fourth was purchased by Bea Feitler, art director at Harper’s Bazaar, for whom Diane added an eleventh photograph.

 

John Gossage, Diane Arbus in Central Park, 1967

John Gossage,:the photographer in Central Park, 1967

 

These pictures are on show at the Smithsonian – The Odyssey of Diane Arbus (1969 – 1973), using the set the photographer assembled for Feitler, which was acquired by the museum 1986. Philip Leider, then editor in chief of Artforum and a photography skeptic, was changed by the collection, opining:

With Diane Arbus, one could find oneself interested in photography or not, but one could no longer.. deny its status as art… What changed everything was the portfolio itself.

In May 1971, Arbus was the first photographer to be featured in Artforum, which also showcased her work on its cover. In June 1972, the portfolio was sent to Venice, where she was the first photographer included in a Biennale, at that time the premiere international showcase for contemporary artists. The Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) organized the American contribution to the Biennale that year, thereby playing an important early role in Arbus’s legacy.

 

Diane Arbus, Boy with a straw hat waiting to march in a pro-war parade, cover of Artforum, May 1971

Diane Arbus show ‘Boy with a straw hat waiting to march in a pro-war parade’, cover of Artforum,
May 1971, 10 ½ x 10 ½ in. Smithsonian American Art Museum; Museum purchase. © The Estate
of Diane Arbus © Artforum, May 1971, “Five Photographs,” by Diane Arbus. Photo by Mindy
Barrett

Diane Arbus, A woman with her baby monkey, N.J. 1971, 1971

A woman with her baby monkey, N.J. 1971, 1971. Smithsonian American Art Museum; Museum purchase. © The Estate of Diane Arbus

 

“They are the proof that something was there and no longer is. Like a stain. And the stillness of them is boggling. You can turn away but when you come back they’ll still be there looking at you.”
—Diane Arbus, 1971

 

Diane Arbus, Promotional flyer for A box of ten photographs, 1970-1971

Promotional flyer for A box of ten photographs, 1970-1971, two gelatin silver
contact sheet strips affixed to paper support, with Arbus’s typed offering information, unframed, 8
1/2 x 11 in. © The Estate of Diane Arbus, photographs courtesy Torin Stephens, Fraenkel Gallery

 

Diane Arbus and Marvin Israel, Lucite Box designed by Israel for A box of ten photographs, with cover sheet by Diane Arbus, 1970-71

Diane Arbus and Marvin Israel, Lucite Box designed by Israel for A box of ten photographs, with
cover sheet by Diane Arbus, 1970-71

 

Stephen Frank, Diane Arbus with her photograph Identical twins, Roselle, N.J. 1966, during a lecture at the Rhode Island School of Design in 1970.

Stephen Frank, Diane Arbus with her photograph A family on their lawn one Sunday in
Westchester, N.Y. 1968, during a lecture at the Rhode Island School of Design in 1970. ©
Stephen A. Frank

Stephen Frank, Diane Arbus with her photograph A young man in curlers at home on West 20th Street, N.Y.C. 1966, during a lecture at the Rhode Island School of Design in 1970

Stephen Frank, Diane Arbus with her photograph A young man in curlers at home on West 20th
Street, N.Y.C. 1966, during a lecture at the Rhode Island School of Design in 1970

Stephen Frank, Diane Arbus with her photograph A family on their lawn one Sunday in Westchester, N.Y. 1968, during a lecture at the Rhode Island School of Design in 1970

Stephen Frank, Diane Arbus with her photograph A family on their lawn one Sunday in
Westchester, N.Y. 1968, during a lecture at the Rhode Island School of Design in 1970

Stephen Frank, Diane Arbus with her photograph Retired man and his wife in a nudist camp one morning, N.J. 1963, during a lecture at the Rhode Island School of Design in 1970

Stephen Frank, Diane Arbus with her photograph Retired man and his wife in a nudist camp one
morning, N.J. 1963, during a lecture at the Rhode Island School of Design in 1970

Stephen Frank, Diane Arbus with her photograph A young Brooklyn family going for a Sunday outing, N.Y.C. 1966, during a lecture at the Rhode Island School of Design in 1970

Stephen Frank, Diane Arbus with her photograph A young Brooklyn family going for a Sunday
outing, N.Y.C. 1966, during a lecture at the Rhode Island School of Design in 1970