Diane Arbus Image of New York Family Highlights Christie’s Photographs Sale

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Courtesy Sotheby’s

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Diane Arbus, Family on their lawn one Sunday in Westchester, N.Y., 1968. Courtesy Christie’s.

As auction houses carry forth with a new focus on e-commerce, they are now bringing sales previously scheduled in March around the time of the coronavirus shutdown as online versions. Opened for bidding on May 19, Christie’s is staging two online photographs auctions offering its classic set of foremost modern and contemporary photographers, including editions by Irving Penn, Diane Arbus, Robert Frank, William Eggleston, Peter Beard, and Gordon Parks as well as contemporary artists such as Hiroshi Sugimoto and Wolfgang Tillmans.

Among the highlights in this season’s photograph offerings is Diane Arbus’s 1968 edition, Family on their lawn one Sunday in Westchester, N.Y. The image comes from the artist’s tenure with the London Sunday Times Magazine. To her editor, when she floated the idea of families as her next project, she described a potential subject she’d met in passing, a suburban woman with “terribly blonde hair and enormously eyelashed.” Arbus’s interest in the domestic did not blunt her signature skill in finding the uncanny. The work, Family on their lawn one Sunday in Westchester, N.Y., was published in the Sunday Times‘s 1968 magazine along with a story titled, Two American Families. The New York family’s sweltering afternoon is staged for the artist’s inquisition of eerie resemblance and aberration.

Christie’s is offering the photograph at an estimate of $200,000-300,000 in their sale, with bidding open until June 3. It’s historical significance is approximated in its value— as the leading lot in the sale, the image is included in the photographer’s seminal portfolio of ten photographs, famously depicting subjects at the margins of society, which currently holds the artist’s record of $792,500 set in 2018 at Christie’s. The highest price for the single edition was set more than a decade ago at Sotheby’s in 2008, realizing a total of $533,000 against a pre-sale estimate of $200,000-300,000.

1967-68 was a pivotal time in the photographer’s career. During her stints as a photojournalist in the late 1960s, Arbus explored some of the bleakest corners of the United States. For an assignment with Esquire in 1967 a year before the American family series was done, Arbus ventured to South Carolina’s low country to photograph the practice and patients of Beaufort county physician, Dr. Donald Gatch, who came to be known as the “Hunger Doctor” for his medical activism around poverty in the rural South.

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