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Nova, October 1969 © 1969 The Estate of Diane Arbus, LLC

Subcultural Layer 0

Anna Iltnere

A retrospective exhibit by the renowned New York photographer Diane Arbus, Pierre Leguillon Presents Diane Arbus: A Printed Retrospective, 1960–1971, has traveled to Vilnius. The exhibit isn’t new. It opened in December 2008 at the Kadist Art Foundation in Paris, and later traveled through France. Last summer the exhibit settled at the Moderna Museet Malmö in Sweden, but this spring, from April 15 through May 28, the retrospective will be on view at the Contemporary Art Center (CAC) in Vilnius. The chance to see Diane Arbus’s works up close is unique and certainly shouldn’t be missed. 

Pierre Leguillon’s Traveling Reading Room

The retrospective was created by Pierre Leguillon (1969), a French photo artist, critic, and curator who selected works by Diane Arbus that were published in British and American periodicals from 1960 through 1971, including The Sunday Times Magazine, Esquire, Harper’s Bazaar, and Nova. The collection encompasses almost all of the artist’s publications—more than 150 photographs. The chosen period was a time when Arbus worked most actively and independently on her photography, immortalizing various members of the subculture. The retrospective is unique because Arbus’s creative works have been selected, compiled, and presented in this way for the first time. 

It is surprising to learn that the internationally acclaimed photographer participated in only one exhibit during her lifetime: New Documents, at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1967. The organizer of the exhibit was the renowned photographer, curator, and art critic John Szarkowski, whose aim was to bring together works by three rising stars of documentary photography: Diane Arbus, Lee Friedlander, and Garry Winogrand. Arbus avoided displaying her works in exhibits, because she was afraid that, if taken outside of context, outside of the story’s photo essay in the format of a report, her intentions could be mistaken. Pierre Leguillon has taken this into account, and therefore created the retrospective without “tearing out” the photographs from the magazine articles they accompanied.

At the CAC in Vilnius, the exhibit has been arranged just as it was elsewhere—in a small gray room with glassed-in magazine spreads arranged along the walls and gray wooden boxes standing in the center of the room, giving an impression of the retrospective’s peripatetic nature. This small room is the perfect size for “sitting down by a pile of yellowing magazines” and getting to know Diane Arbus.