Public Art Fund is pleased to present British conceptual artist Gillian Wearing’s life-size bronze sculpture Diane Arbus—a tribute to the legendary photographer. Arbus was a lifelong New Yorker and often frequented Central Park, where she made photographs of everyday people. Wearing’s sculpture is on view in Doris C. Freedman Plaza at the southeast entrance to the park. It depicts Arbus with her finger on the shutter button of her iconic twin lens camera, as she might have been seen in the 1950s and 60s.
Standing 5’6” tall, the sculpture is presented at street level without a plinth, directly meeting visitors. Her shoes are painted realistically to humanize the appearance of the bronze statue. A plaque bears a quote by Arbus: “If you scrutinize reality closely enough, if in some way you really, really get to it, it becomes fantastic.” Wearing’s personal tribute to another artist offers a new way to think about and present a public monument, while prompting us to reflect on who gets chosen to be the subject of a public sculpture. The installation coincides with the retrospective at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Gillian Wearing: Wearing Masks, on view from November 5, 2021 to April 4, 2022. Diane Arbus will shine a light on Wearing’s public art practice and is on view from October 20, 2021 through August 14, 2022 at Doris C. Freedman Plaza.
“An artist best known for her exploration in photography and video of the complex and fluid nature of human identity, Gillian Wearing’s embrace of cast bronze statuary may be unexpected. Yet the unexpected is precisely what has fascinated Wearing all along,” says Public Art Fund Artistic & Executive Director Nicholas Baume. “In her bronze Diane Arbus, we see the posthumous homage to a pioneering artist by another from a different time and place. We also see a modest, unassuming figure, standing at the entrance to Central Park, recognizable by the most distinctive attribute of her public self: her Rolleiflex camera.”
In 2008, the British artist created the photograph Me as Arbus, initiating the Me As series in which Wearing recreates portraits of artists by photographing herself wearing prosthetic masks and wigs. Through this body of work, Wearing pays homage to the artists whose work has inspired her, referring to them as her “spiritual family.” Both artists are drawn to people, reflecting on the human condition with candor, empathy and compassion. Wearing’s decision to present the sculpture without a plinth will enable the public to experience the human-scale work up close and explore its details. Wearing used the labor-intensive lost wax process to create Diane Arbus. Based on extensive research and working from a variety of source photographs, Wearing’s cast bronze sculpture captures Arbus with both unpretentious immediacy and affectionate respect.
Wearing’s work spans photography, video, sculpture, and painting, and she combines a deep understanding of art history and a fascination with everyday life to investigate the performative nature of identity. Her long-standing interest in the activation of public space has been seen in past works such as Courage Calls to Courage Everywhere (2018). Commissioned by the Mayor of London to mark the centenary of women’s suffrage in Wearing’s native United Kingdom, Wearing created a statue of the suffragist Millicent Fawcett in Parliament Square. The work is the first statue of a woman, and the first statue by a woman at the prestigious site. Wearing’s new commission for New York City will pay tribute to Arbus, for whom Central Park was a haven that allowed her to interact with and document everyday people. Wearing’s personal cast bronze homage to Arbus, standing accessibly at eye-level, asserts the impact of Arbus’s human approach to photography and the visibility of women within the male dominated tradition of public statuary.
About the artist ~ Gillian Wearing (b.1963, Birmingham, England) currently lives and works in London. She was recently commissioned by the Mayor of London to create a statue of Suffragist leader Millicent Fawcett in Parliament Square, which was unveiled in April 2018. Wearing won the Turner Prize in 1997 and was awarded an OBE in 2011 and a CBE in 2019 for contribution to the arts.
Gillian Wearing: Diane Arbus will be on view from October 20, 2021 to August 14, 2022 at Doris C. Freedman Plaza, at the Fifth Avenue and 59th Street entrance to Central Park. This exhibition coincides with the retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum, Gillian Wearing: Wearing Masks, opening on November 5, 2021, and running to April 4, 2022.
Gillian Wearing: Diane Arbus is curated by Public Art Fund Artistic & Executive Director Nicholas Baume with Associate Curator Katerina Stathopoulou.