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Nota Bene

Front-Page News

This Week at MHC

Mount Holyoke College News and Events Vista The College Street Journal Archives

October 17 , 2003

Front-Page News

All in the Family Diane Arbus: Family Albums, an exhibition of the photographer’s work now on display at the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum, and its accompanying catalog cowritten by MHC’s Anthony W. Lee have gained favorable attention from the New York Times and the New Yorker magazine. “The creepiness of family ties, so uncertain and yet so binding, was a theme throughout (Arbus’s) career, and is the connecting tissue for a provocative show here at the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum,” writes arts critic Richard B. Woodward in the October 5 Times. “Family Albums (also the title of the catalog from Yale University Press) is based on a book Arbus whimsically proposed three years before her death in 1971 but never developed, namely that her photographs as a whole might be said to make up an enormous and unusual family album—in her words, ‘a Noah’s ark’ of humanity.” Woodward notes that the show contains “lots of fresh material,” including the complete record of a previously undocumented family portrait commission. “For scholars of Arbus, stymied since her suicide by her estate’s iron grip on her work, the 322 unknown images are a gold mine,” Woodward writes. “Never before has it been possible to examine her photographic strategies in such detail.” He concludes: “Arbus photographed as though her subjects might one day be exhibits in a human zoo, and the Mount Holyoke show contributes a few more endangered species. Sadly, she never figured out where she belonged.” In the New Yorker’s Books section, Judith Thurman looks back on the photographer’s work and life. “Even before her death, in 1971, Arbus was exalted as a genius and reviled as a predator who conned her subjects out of their dignity,” she writes. “The judicious books that accompany two new shows give perspective to her intentions and, in the process, to her character. Diane Arbus: Family Albums is the catalogue of an exhibit curated by Anthony W. Lee and John Pultz that is currently installed at the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum in South Hadley, Massachusetts. An informative short essay by Pultz focusses on specific work, and an erudite, longer one by Lee reconsiders Arbus’s portraiture in the context of social and art history.” She notes that the pictures Arbus took for her Family Album project “were commissioned by magazines or by private clients, and some were made for art’s sake. Like all her work, they explored the nature of closeness and disaffection, sameness and anomaly, belonging and exclusion: the tension between our sentimental expectations of what is supposed to be and the debacle of what is. Arbus put it more simply to Crookston: ‘I think all families are creepy in a way.’”

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