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Shetland Museum to host ARTIST ROOMS exhibition of legendary American photographer Diane Arbus

Published: 19 June 2023

Diane Arbus A young man and his pregnant wife in Washington Square Park, N.Y.C. 1965

ARTIST ROOMS Tate and National Galleries of Scotland © The Estate of Diane Arbus

Shetland Museum and Archives is the most northerly venue in the British Isles for this touring ARTIST ROOMS exhibition of her work, presented in partnership with Tate and National Galleries of Scotland. Arbus’s extraordinary portraits will be on display in the Gadderie from 19 August to 12 November 2023.

Born in New York in 1923, Diana Arbus is considered one of the great figures of American photography, pioneering a bold and original approach which bridged the gap between documentary photography and fine art.

The exhibition will include many of the artist's most iconic portraits, and features more than 30 black and white photographs spanning her career from the mid-1950s until her death in 1971. Arbus began photographing in the 1940s, and her first published images appeared in Esquire magazine in 1960. Over the next ten years she produced a remarkable body of work in which she documented the lives, appearances and emotions of people, celebrating the extraordinary in the ordinary.

Through her commitment to ‘photograph everybody’, Arbus was drawn to marginalised people and communities, and the sub-cultures of post-war American society. She built up relationships of trust and respect with her subjects to produce powerful portraits of astonishing intimacy. Her psychologically acute images of couples, children, circus performers, drag artists, suburban families and celebrities often reveal a difference between how people want to be perceived by others, and how they appear.

The exhibition begins with Arbus's early works taken with a 35mm camera, and features a series of compelling portraits taken in the distinctive square format she began using in 1962, made famous through such images as Identical twins, Roselle, N.J. 1966.  A highlight within the exhibition is the presentation of A box of ten photographs 1969-71, a rare portfolio of original prints which Arbus produced shortly before her death in 1971. For Arbus, the ten images represented who she was as an artist and how she saw her work in the world, a legacy that became more solidified with her tragic suicide.

Hazel Sutherland, chief executive of Shetland Amenity Trust said: “It is a real honour to welcome this compelling exhibition to Shetland. Arbus was a pioneer of social documentary photography, and her work is bold and inspiring, driven by a fascination for the diversity of human life. We are delighted that Shetland Museum has been chosen by ARTIST ROOMS, Tate and National Galleries Scotland as one of the UK partners for this prestigious tour.”

There will be a series of gallery talks and workshops for adults and young people to accompany the exhibition.

Diane Arbus’s singular vision redefined documentary photography. This exhibition offers a rare opportunity to encounter her remarkable work at first hand, and a compelling insight into the haunting and evocative imagery for which she is recognised worldwide.

ARTIST ROOMS is a national collection of international modern and contemporary art. Its programme reaches audiences across the UK and is developed through local partnerships.

ARTIST ROOMS presents the work of international artists in solo exhibitions, drawn from a national touring collection jointly owned by Tate and the National Galleries of Scotland. The programme is shown across the UK with the support of Art Fund, Henry Moore Foundation, Arts Council England and Creative Scotland.