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The news this morning that the Metropolitan Museum of Art has acquired the priceless archives of photographer Diane Arbus should come as no surprise. The archive, consisting of Arbus’s diaries, books, family pictures, and photo equipment, was given to the museum by the Arbus estate, along with early and unique photos, negatives and contact prints of 7,500 rolls of film and glassine print sleeves covered with her own comments. As often happens, the Met paved the way for this gift two years ago when it staged an exhibition of Arbus’s work. In addition to the gift, the Met announced that it bought 20 of Arbus’s most important photographs, including “Russian Midget Friends in a Living Room on 100th Street, N.Y.C.,” (above) from the Fraenkel Gallery in San Francisco, which represents the estate. According to the New York Times, the sale might be worth $5 million.
If nothing else, these moves show how determined the museum is to be America’s premier photographic museum. Earlier this year the Met opened a new gallery for contemporary photography, while continuing to increase floor space for all types of photography. At this point the museum’s only real competitor in this regard would seem to be the Getty museum in Los Angeles, which has also greatly expanded in photographic exhibition space. (The Getty will also be receiving a huge photographic gift of its own from the collection of Nancy Goliger and Bruce Berman.)
The Met, of course, is where Arbus’s material should rightfully end up. Her work and life was intimately connected with New York City, and particularly Central Park, where she met many of her famous subjects. Now her archive will have a home just steps from where she shot.
–David Schonauer