Art Nerd City Guides: New York · Los Angeles

Diane Arbus and the Westbeth

In 1971, the volatile and highly depressive photographer Diane Arbus, then 48, took a heavy dose of barbituates then slashed her wrists, while living in the Westbeth Artists Community in the West Village. Arbus lived all over New York City for most of her life, but only lived in Westbeth for a year before succumbing to her extreme depression. The photographer, who we know best for taking pictures of the fringes of society in the 1960s, became more famous after her death (like many artists), with MoMA staging a retrospective of her work a year after she died.

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I love that her subjects, which most people labeled as “freaks” (circus folk, midgets, weirdos in the park, leather-clad couples, drag queens and the like), she explained as “the space between who someone is and who they think they are” – an incredibly poignant way to explain the judging of a book by its cover.

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The Westbeth Artists Community is pretty interesting in itself- being one of the first adaptive reuse projects, as it was formerly the Bell Laboratories, where one of the first versions of the television was invented. It opened in 1970 after renovations by the starchitect Richard Meier, to 384 artists of all persuasions to live and work. Although the resident wait list has been closed in 2007, many famous people lived there (aside from Arbus’ suicide) including not just Merce Cunningham, but VIN DIESEL. Yep. (why?!)

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Who: Diane Arbus

What: Westbeth Artists Community/site of her suicide

Where: 55 Bethune

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