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News! Major Diane Arbus exhibition coming 2020

Diane Arbus: Photographs, 1956–1971 will honour our 2016 acquisition of the second largest collection of photographs by the renowned American photographer.

Diane Arbus, Two girls on the beach, Coney Island, N.Y., 1958

Diane Arbus, Two girls on the beach, Coney Island, N.Y., 1958, 1958. gelatin silver print; printed later. 50.8 x 40.6 cm. Gift of Robin and David Young, 2016. 2016/934. Copyright © The Estate of Diane Arbus.

The striking black and white photographs of legendary American photographer Diane Arbus (1923–1971) revolutionized portraiture through the range of subjects she captured and their distinctive style. Primarily made in and around New York City, Arbus selected her subjects for their uniqueness – including couples, children, nudists, suburban families, circus performers and celebrities, among others she encountered in public spaces. You may remember last seeing her work at the AGO as part of our hit 2016 exhibition Outsiders: American Photography and Film, 1950s–1980s, and that same year, thanks to the generosity of a small group of donors, we acquired the world’s second largest collection of Arbus photographs.

This winter, the AGO will honour that landmark acquisition of 522 works with a major solo exhibition of 150 works. The first in Canada in almost three decades, Diane Arbus: Photographs, 1956–1971 will explore her artistic evolution.

Diane Arbus photograph of three female impersonators

Diane Arbus, Three female impersonators, N.Y.C., 1962. Gelatin silver print, sheet: 35.6 x 27.9 cm. Art Gallery of Ontario. Anonymous gift, 2016. Copyright © Estate of Diane Arbus.


According to Sophie Hackett, our curator of photography, “In fifteen short years, Diane Arbus produced perhaps the most compelling and demanding body of portraits the 20th century had seen to that point. The direct, even confrontational, gaze of the individuals in her photographs remains bracing to our eyes still today – provoking recognition, empathy and unease.”

For the first time, the full sweep of Arbus’s career will be presented chronologically. The exhibition opens with an arresting self-portrait from 1945 and begins in 1956, the year Arbus decided to seriously pursue photography. The early works reveal an artist fascinated by the range of humanity and life as it unfolded on the street. In 1962, Arbus abandoned her 35mm camera in favour of a 2 ¼ Rolleiflex camera with its distinctive square image. This shift to a larger format marked her emergence as a mature artist. In the decade that follows, Arbus created many of her most iconic works in her direct, sharply focussed signature style.

Opening in the Sam & Ayala Zacks Pavilion on February 22, 2020, Diane Arbus: Photographs, 1956–1971 is free for AGO Members, AGO Annual Pass holders and visitors 25 years and under. Annual Passes provide unlimited admission for an entire year for only $35, including the AGO Collection and all special exhibitions. For more details about the Annual Pass or to become a Member, visit

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