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Off-Campus: On the Couch

In this weekly feature, we will share our ideas for what you can do “off-campus” while the museum is closed. Today’s post comes from Sadie Burzan, Vassar College class of 2011 and Art Center student docent.

Diane Arbus (1923-1971) Identical Twins, Roselle, N.J., 1967, gelatin silver print 1974.21.1

Temperatures outside are dropping and radiators are slowly starting to tremble with heat. This time of year, sitting on my sofa wrapped up in a big blanket is my ideal weekend plan. Put on a good movie, and I’m set. If you, too, would like to get cozy and watch a film this weekend, let me make a suggestion – Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus.

Fur, released in 2006, explores the potential inner fantasies and imaginations of American photographer Diane Arbus. Though roughly based on Patricia Bosworth’s book, Diane Arbus: A Biography, director Steven Shainburg created a mostly fictional account. He staged situations in which actors who represent subjects of her iconic photographs coexist in one space – you may recognize the “Jewish Giant,” the “Nudist Couple,” and other ubiquitous characters inhabiting the same frame.

Arbus is no stranger to the Art Center, where we have a number of her photographs. She is best known for her portraits of unusual people, from giants and dwarfs to transvestites and nudist couples. Nicole Kidman plays Arbus, who falls in love with her neighbor, Lionel, played by a very hairy Robert Downey Jr. (Lionel has hypertrichosis and may have been based on a man of the same name who was advertised as “half man, half lion” at the Coney Island Circus Side Show in the 1920s). Both actors are compelling and delightful to watch.

Though this is a predominantly fabricated tale, Fur offers the viewer a small glimpse into Arbus’ wildly interesting, relationships, background, and idiosyncratic interests.

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