Thirty years after showing revolutionary photographer Diane Arbus (1923 – 1971) for the first time, Corkin Gallery is very pleased to present Pursuing Difference, an exhibition of work by the artist who transformed the world’s cultural perception and critical reception of photography.
Presented on the 50th anniversary of Arbus’s death, the exhibition brings together photographs the artist took in the 1960s, many in New York City parks. For Arbus, parks were a democratizing setting — spaces for unexpected encounters and chance interactions with a cross-section of diverse people whose bodies, genders, abilities, and behaviours didn’t necessarily conform with socially-prescribed or -sanctioned conventions. Championing people’s “differences” — what she expanded upon as “those of birth, accident, choice, belief, predilection, inertia” — Arbus turned her lens on singularities and identities that challenged hegemonic norms of representation, thereby expanding the public’s understanding of who matters and whose stories get to be told.
After a protracted period of lockdown that has seen surges of global unrest, protest, and calls for social justice, Pursuing Difference returns us to a previous era in North America — the 1960s — in which people were similarly agitating and advocating for a social revolution. “As an American who came to Canada in the late ‘60s, Arbus represents a cultural era that called for meaningful change,” says Jane Corkin, owner of the Gallery. “It feels important to be bringing Diane Arbus back to the public during a moment in time when people around the world are calling for change once again.” Arbus’s photographs remind us of the power of art to challenge paradigms, shift perceptions, and summon enduring transformations with respect to representation and equity.
Arbus was the first photographer to exhibit at the Venice Biennale in 1972. Her work, which embraces vulnerability, grit, and nonconformity, constitutes a raw and unflinching celebration of difference. Arbus’s work effectively helped liberate street photography from its documentary associations to solidify its importance in the trajectory of art history. Held in 1972, the Diane Arbus retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York still holds the highest attendance record to date at the museum. Her art inaugurated new aesthetic standards for photography and continues to influence contemporary artists working across diverse media.
Pursuing Difference coincides with the 30th anniversary of the first gallery exhibition dedicated to Diane Arbus in Canada, presented by Jane Corkin Gallery in 1991. Corkin Gallery’s long-standing commitment to Arbus — and photography by women more generally — has had an impact on Toronto’s connection to the artist. The Art Gallery of Ontario recently acquired a significant collection of Arbus photographs, which were on exhibition last year in their show Diane Arbus: Photographs, 1956-1971.