Diane Arbus and the Joy—or Not—of Sex

THE DAILY PIC: In an Artnet auction of Diane Arbus, her photos have an erotic charge.

THE DAILY PIC (#1604): This photo is titled Lady at a Masked Ball with Two Roses on Her Dress, N.Y.C. It was taken in 1967 by Diane Arbus, and it is now up for sale in an online auction of her work at artnet.com that ends Thursday. When I first saw this image, with its roseate nipples displaced up from their usual position, it instantly brought to mind the sexual antics that Arbus got up to. (I’ve been reading the great new bio of her by Arthur Lubow.)

And this ’67 photo made me wonder if it might maybe make sense to think of all of her classic shots as being in some sense about sublimated sex. Arbus came of age in the sexually repressed middle decades of the last century, and there’s no way that her later bedroom adventures could fully free her from the sense of sin and guilt that came with sex. I can’t completely parse it out, but to me it feels as though the liberation-through-strangeness that a lot of her photographs are about has an analog in the desire for liberation into the strangeness of sex that she was looking for.

She wanted a world where the peculiarities of life in bed could reveal themselves as easily and openly—as shamelessly—as the other peculiarities that were forever presenting themselves to her lens.

For a full survey of past Daily Pics visit blakegopnik.com/archive.

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