- Diane Arbus
- VIVA AT HOME
- gelatin silver
Viva at Home, among the scarcest of all Arbus photographs, was published in the fourth issue of the new New York magazine, in a legendary article—'La Dolce Viva'—that almost brought the publication to a halt. Barbara Goldsmith had interviewed the Warhol superstar Viva for New York, then used the model-turned-actress's own words to describe the gritty details of her drug use, her myriad sexual partners, and her Catholic upbringing. The feature's opening photograph, by Lee Kraft, was of the beautiful Viva in her fashion-model mode; the next spreads, however, used two Arbus photographs of Viva nude in her chaotic brownstone apartment, including the image offered here. Much of the public, as well as the fledgling magazine's backers, were stunned. Praised by some and condemned by others, the article cost New York many of its advertisers. 'It was something of a cause célèbre,' Arbus wrote to a friend, 'with much mail and cancelled subscriptions and pro and con phone calls and whatnot, even a threatened lawsuit' (quoted in Revelations, p. 190).
The photograph offered here comes from the personal collection of the artist Tal Streeter (b. 1934), who acquired it from Arbus herself. As Streeter relates,
'I am an artist who traveled in many of the same circles as Diane in the 1960s. I first showed in the emerging art scene on Tenth Street and was fortunate to be taken under the wing of Leo Castelli and Ivan Karp, among others. I had seen Diane's work in magazines, and had met her briefly at openings. At the time, I was putting together a personal collection of photographs, based primarily on photos I had seen at an early Documenta exhibition: portraits, posed and unposed, the subjects looking directly into the camera without a shred of artifice or self-consciousness; mourners at a Mafia funeral; a black African coal miner; a young Vietnam girl, her eyes and faced badly scarred, burned. I planned to use this collection to inform my art students, colleagues, and friends about the power of photography, which I felt deserved a significant place in our emerging visual culture.
'I had hoped to add an Arbus to my collection, and was delighted when Diane responded to my request for a visit. I had run into her at an exhibition and then talked to her on the phone, describing my plans for the collection. I met with her in her downtown apartment—this was in 1968 or 1969—and she let me pick an image from a stack of prints. I chose 'Viva at Home,' which I knew from the magazine article. Its impact was undeniable, and added greatly to the thrust of what I was trying to do.'
The same 1968 issue of New York magazine which featured the Viva article also included in the art listings Tal Streeter's solo show at the Sachs Gallery on 57th Street. Streeter's best-known work is perhaps the 70-foot-high zigzagging Endless Column sculpture, installed at 79th Street and Fifth Avenue, near The Metropolitan Museum of Art, from 1969 to 1971, before being acquired for the permanent collection of the Storm King Art Center. Streeter's distinguished career has included teaching and artist-in-residence roles at Dartmouth, the University of North Carolina, the MIT Center for Advanced Visual Studies, and the State University of New York at Purchase, where he founded the Sculpture III-D Media Area in the Visual Arts. Another photograph from his collection appears in the present catalogue as Lot 64.
This is believed to be only the second time an Arbus print of Viva at Home has appeared at auction. In April of 1990, a lifetime print belonging to Graham Nash was sold in these rooms (Sale 6003, Photographs from the Collection of Graham Nash, Lot 407). At the time of this writing, only three lifetime prints of this image have been located: the print used in John Szarkowski's 1972 Arbus retrospective at The Museum of Modern Art, now in a private collection; the print from the Nash sale, which was included in the Infinity 1970 exhibition at the New York Cultural Center, now also in a private collection; and the print offered here. A posthumous print by Neil Selkirk was shown in the Arbus Revelations exhibition that began at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 2003.