Revisiting Diane Arbus’s Most Famous Photo on Her 94th Birthday

artnet Auctions offers Diane Arbus's iconic "Child With Toy Hand Grenade."

Diane Arbus, Child With Toy Hand Grenade, Central Park, NYC, 1962 (printed 1972). Courtesy of artnet Auctions.

American photographer Diane Arbus was born on March 14, 1923. Known for her images of individuals on the fringes of society, including dwarfs, circus performers, the mentally ill, and transgendered persons, Arbus was one of the 20th century’s most provocative artists.

To mark what would have been her 94th birthday, artnet Auctions is offering a print of Child With Toy Hand Grenade, Central Park, NYC, 1962, one of her most famous images. A skinny young boy, named Colin Wood, is shown in Central Park, a perturbed look on his face as he clutches a toy grenade in his hand.

“If you look at the contact sheet, he’s a happy, contented child in most of the frames,” said artnet Auctions photographs specialist Bree Hughes. “In this photo, his patience has worn thin, as if to say ‘take my photo already!'”

“This is one of the most significant photographic images in the history of fine art photography,” she added, noting that the image is colored by the spirit of the 1960s and the escalation of the Vietnam War.

“Arbus captures a boy on the cusp of adolescence yet still playing with toys—but the object is a plastic grenade, an object of war,” said Hughes. “There’s something troubling about him playing solider—the ongoing war efforts were not lost on a little kid in Central Park.”

During her lifetime, Arbus made relatively few prints of her images. Sadly, she committed suicide in 1971 at just 48 years old.

The photograph currently for sale was printed in 1972 by Neil Selkirk, the only person authorized to create posthumous Arbus prints, and is expected to bring in $100,000–150,000. The artist’s daughter, Doon Arbus, who serves as administrator of her mother’s estate, signed the artwork.

According to the artnet Price Database, Child With Toy Hand Grenade set an auction record for Arbus at Christie’s New York in May 2015, with a lifetime print selling for $785,000. The photograph also fetched $408,000 in 2005, and $229,000 in 2007, both at Christie’s New York. Nine other sales of the image have exceeded the $100,000 mark.

A print of the iconic photograph was recently on view here in New York, at the Met Breuer’s exhibition “Diane Arbus: In the Beginning” (July 12–November 27,2016). A critically-acclaimed overview of the first seven years of the photographer’s career, the show is currently on view at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Diane Arbus, Child With Toy Hand Grenade, Central Park, NYC, 1962, is for sale at artnet Auctions, March 14–28, 2017.

“Diane Arbus: In the Beginning” is on view at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 151 Third Street, San Francisco, January 21–April 30. 

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