Diane Arbus
(New York, NY, USA, 1923 – Greenwich Village, New York, NY, USA, 1971)

Two boys smoking in Central Park, N.Y.C. 1963, 1963

Gelatin silver print
37,5 × 37,8 cm (image); 62,9 × 52,7 × 3,8 cm (framed)
Ed. 49 of an edition of 75. Printed by Neil Selkirk
[Photo: Courtesy David Zwirner]

Diane Arbus is one of the most influential artist-photographers of the twentieth century. Her shots bear witness to the many faces of American society since after the war for the purpose of calling into question what the viewer thinks about identity, gender, race, and appearance. Arbus often took pictures in the streets and parks of New York. Usually, she did not know the subjects she photographed: she would stop them, talk to them, and start taking pictures, capturing them in a vast range of postures and expressions. She would go back to the studio and choose the image that more than the others conveyed the feeling of non-conventionality, strangeness, drama, exclusion from every life.
In Two boys smoking in Central Park, N.Y.C. 1963, two black kids alone in the park are smoking as though they were adults; one of them is holding a beer bottle, the other a bag that probably contains food. Evoked here is the decline, isolation, and poverty these subjects find themselves living in. In 1972, this same shot was exhibited in the historic posthumous retrospective dedicated to the photographer by the Museum of Modern Art in New York, curated by John Szarkowski, the museum’s legendary director of photography. It was the solo show with the highest number of visitors in the history of the museum.

Diane Arbus studied photography with Berenice Abbott, Alexey Brodovitch, and Lisette Model and published her first photos in Esquire in 1960. In 1963 and in 1966 she was awarded the John Simon Guggenheim scholarship and was one of three photographers included in the legendary exhibition New Documents at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1967. One year after she died, Arbus was included in the Venice Biennale and was the first photographer to receive an award. The numerous retrospectives devoted to her work include: Museum of Modern Art of New York in 1972 (traveling across the United States and Canada from 1972 to 1975), Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco in 2003 (traveling in the United States and Europe until 2006); Jeu de Paume in Paris in 2011 (traveling to Winterthur, Berlin, and Amsterdam until 2013); Met Breuer in New York in 2016 (traveling to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires Malba, and the Hayward Gallery in London until 2019), Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington in 2018–2019, Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto in 2020 (traveling to the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Humlebæk and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts until 2023), LUMA in Arles in 2023. In addition to the many institutions around the world that hold Arbus’ photographs in their collections, in 2007 the Metropolitan Museum of Art acquired the artist’s complete archive.