Art created in North America includes objects made by native cultures of the present-day United States and Canada; paintings and decorative arts produced during colonial times; 18th- and 19th-century masterpieces; and the work of contemporary artists and photographers.
Diane Arbus was one of the most original and influential American artists of the 20th century. Championed by John Szarkowski, director and curator of the photography department at New York's Museum of Modern Art, Arbus was included in the seminal 1967 exhibition New Documents: Diane Arbus, Lee Friedlander, Garry Winogrand, which introduced the then-new concept of social landscape. Szarkowski exhibited the work of photographers whose “aim was not to reform life but to know it.”
Arbus began her career in fashion with her husband, Allan Arbus, and in the late 1950s she attended a workshop with renowned photographer Lisette Model, who encouraged Arbus not only to master standard photographic technique but also to seek her own subjects. On a Guggenheim Fellowship in the 1960s, Arbus explored "American rites, manners, and customs.” Likened to a contemporary anthropologist, Arbus took iconic and compelling portraits revealing the hidden side of a wide range of people, from those who epitomize societal norms to those on its extreme edges. The MFAH collection contains nearly 150 examples of Arbus's work and continues to acquire more. To view specific works by Arbus in the collection, contact the museum's Works on Paper Study Center for an appointment.