Saturday, April 30, 2005

Arbus -- at the Met and in Brooklyn

Diane Arbus' photographs -- on display at the Met until the end of May -- are eerie pieces of work. Many artists attempt to find poetry in the banality of everyday life. Working in black and white, Arbus instead finds enigma, sadness, mild horror and tinges of the grotesque. In old women, she locates the faces of men, and in her "female impersonators," she finds what we usually call feminine. She catches "normal" people on the street, looking their most abnormal. Or tries to get intimate with people, sitting on their beds, only to reveal expressions more likely seen on the street. She was drawn to the strange or the "different": sideshow performers (including "the man who eats razor blades" cradling a newborn baby); nudists (including a "waitress" wearing only shoes and a white lacy apron); and the mentally retarded.

This last untitled series of pictures is especially haunting, as many of the shots seem to have been taken around Halloween or after a costume ball for the residents. She lays bare a kind of cruelty inherent in the twisted, gruesome masks worn as costumes; some of the people are wearing them, some aren't; perhaps we are meant to see the similarities.

After seeing this exhibit, I'm definitely interested in the new Arbus biopic, Fur, which Nicole Kidman and Robert Downey Jr. are starring in. Shooting is supposed to begin next month in the Brooklyn Navy Yard's new Steiner Studios. The director is Steven Shainberg, who also brought us that weird but wonderful movie Secretary, starring L.E.S. native Maggie Gyllenhaal.

Speaking of the Lower East Side, this evening's plans include a visit to The Delancey.

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