Bold exhibition featuring photography by legendary Diane Arbus opens at Shetland Museum and Archives

A new display of powerful and iconic photographs by Diane Arbus, one of the most influential photographers of the 20th century, opened last Friday evening (18 August) at Shetland Museum and Archives in front of invited guests.

Diane Arbus is widely considered to be one of the great figures of American photography, pioneering a new photographic approach which bridged the gap between documentary photography and fine art. She began photographing in the 1940s, and her first published images appeared in Esquire magazine in 1960. Over the next ten years Arbus produced an extraordinary body of work in which she documented the lives, appearances and emotions of people, celebrating the extraordinary in the ordinary.

The selection of works on display are part of the ARTIST ROOMS collection, jointly owned by Tate and National Galleries of Scotland. ARTIST ROOMS presents modern and contemporary art to audiences across the UK with a national programme that is developed through local partnerships. Shetland Museum and Archives is the most northerly venue in the British Isles for this touring ARTIST ROOMS exhibition of her work.

Hazel Sutherland, chief executive of Shetland Amenity Trust, said: “This is a hugely exciting event for Shetland and a rare opportunity for people to see work from this extraordinary photographer in a local venue. The Gadderie is looking spectacular and we are honoured to be sharing a selection of this powerful and thought-provoking collection.

“This is an incredible achievement by all involved and testament to Shetland Amenity Trust’s commitment to bring internationally significant exhibitions to Shetland. We would like to thank ARTIST ROOMS, Tate and National Galleries of Scotland for their funding and for accepting Shetland Museum as a venue.”

Ceri Lewis, senior curator, ARTIST ROOMS at Tate and National Galleries of Scotland, said in her opening speech: “This is an exciting moment to see a return to Shetland for ARTIST ROOMS - having had an exhibition here in 2014 of the work of war photographer Sir Don McCullin.

“I am delighted that we have been able to continue our relationship with Shetland Amenity Trust by bringing an exhibition of another radical and influential photographer to Shetland: this time one of the great figures of American photography.

“ARTIST ROOMS is all about bringing great art to towns and cities all across the UK, free of charge. We do this through partnership – collaborating with local teams to create a new experience for audiences, so people – especially young people – have access to world class international art through their local museums and galleries.”

Ceri Lewis, senior curator, ARTIST ROOMS at Tate and National Galleries of Scotland

The exhibition spans the breadth of Arbus’s career and features 32 of her works. A highlight within the exhibition is the rare limited-edition portfolio of original prints, A box of ten photographs 1969-71. Arbus gave considerable thought to what this portfolio should be and how it should look, selecting a set of ten images comprising some of her most iconic portraits, including Xmas tree in a living room in Levittown 1962 and A Jewish giant at home with his parents in the Bronx, N.Y. 1970.

Her images of couples, children, carnival performers, nudists, middle-class families, drag artists, and celebrities stand as an allegory of post-war American society. Through her commitment ‘to photograph everybody’, Arbus was drawn to marginalised people and communities. She built up relationships of trust with her subjects to produce powerful portraits of astonishing intimacy.

A series of events and activities connected to the exhibition will be announced shortly.

The exhibition runs until 12 November 2023.

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