Lot 172
  • 172

Diane Arbus 1923-1971

bidding is closed


  • Diane Arbus
  • 'exasperated boy with toy hand grenade, n. y.'
signed 'Diane,' titled and dated by the photographer in pencil on the reverse, matted, 1962, probably printed between 1965 and 1969


Acquired by the present owner from the photographer


Other prints of this image:

Diane Arbus (Aperture, 1972, in conjunction with retrospective exhibition originating at The Museum of Modern Art, New York), unpaginated

James L. Enyeart, Language of Light: A Survey of the Photography Collection of the University of Kansas Museum of Art (Lawrence, 1974), pl. 8 

Diane Arbus: Revelations (New York, 2003, in conjunction with the exhibition originating at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art), pp. 104-05, 164, and 208

Peter Galassi, American Photography 1890-1965 from The Museum of Modern Art (The Museum of Modern Art, 1995), p. 243

Peter Turner, Editor, American Images: Photography 1945-1980 (London: Barbican Art Gallery, 1985), p. 154

Jonathan Green, American Photography: A Critical History 1945 To the Present (New York, 1984), p. 119

The Graham Nash Collection (Los Angeles: The Nash Press, 1978), p. 30

Photography/Venice '79 (New York: Rizzoli, 1979), p. 336

Alfred Appel, Jr., Signs of Life (New York, 1983), p. 84

Catalogue Note

The photograph offered here, with its unforgettable, grenade-clutching boy, was taken by Arbus in New York’s Central Park in the spring or summer months of 1962.  It was around this time that Arbus stopped using her 35mm cameras in favor of a 2 ¼ twin-lens Rolleiflex, and it was the Rolleifex that was used for this shot. Tom Southall points out, in Diane Arbus: Magazine Work, that the larger camera gave her not only more clarity and definition in the negative, but also a new, square format; and, more important, a camera that was held at waist level, which allowed for crucial eye contact with her subjects (p. 159).  The ‘Exasperated Boy’ is among the first of Arbus’s images made with the Rolleiflex, and its characteristic square format would become her signature style in the years to come. 

The ‘Exasperated Boy with Toy Hand Grenade’ was one of seven Arbus images acquired by John Szarkowski for The Museum of Modern Art’s collection in October 1964. These were the first Arbus photographs to enter not only the collection of The Museum of Modern Art, but the collection of any museum (Revelations, p. 171).  Of the seven images in this very early museum acquisition, it is the ‘Exasperated Boy’ that remains highest in the Arbus pantheon.  Other photographs from this early museum group, such as ‘Miss Venice Beach’ are rarely seen; and even the ‘Retired Man and His Wife, Nudist Camp, New Jersey,’ picked by Arbus for her own Box of Ten portfolio, lacks the punch and grotesque humor of this cocky young boy.    

In 1967, the ‘Exasperated Boy’ was one of thirty Arbus photographs chosen by John Szarkowski for the famous New Documents show at The Museum of Modern Art, the only significant exhibition of Arbus’s work during her lifetime.  This landmark exhibition showcased the work of three contemporary photographers—Diane Arbus, Lee Friedlander, and Garry Winogrand—and charted a radical new direction in what had previously been thought of as ‘documentary photography.’  Although the present image is best known today by the title, ‘Child with Toy Hand Grenade in Central Park, N. Y. C.,’ the print in the 1967 New Documents exhibition was titled ‘Exasperated Boy with Toy Hand Grenade, N.Y.,’ corresponding to the title of the print offered here.  As of this writing, only one other vintage print of the image with the ‘Exasperated Boy’ version of the title has been located, in the collection of the University of Kansas Museum of Art.

A contact sheet from the roll of film that includes this image shows the same boy in a variety of poses, some almost ordinary (Revelations, p. 164).  Southall (op. cit., pp. 28, 29, and 159) discusses the children’s fashion layouts that Arbus had been assigned in 1962, and some frames from the ‘Exasperated Boy’ contact sheet could almost be mistaken for these Harper’s Bazaar images.  Arbus’s pick from the contact sheet, translated into the large-format photograph offered here, is the most interesting and perverse of the group: the child as anarchist, fed up with things around him, ready to lob a grenade.  Arbus was known for her uncanny ability to interact and empathize with her sitters, and in this photograph she has entered the complex and brilliant world of the child with a vengeance.  In a 1981 conversation with Patricia Bosworth, Isabelle Boeschenstein, Walker Evans’s second wife, remembered his commenting, ‘”Giving a camera to Diane Arbus is like giving a hand grenade to a baby”’ (quoted in Bosworth, p. 227).