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DIANE ARBUS: SURFACE TENSION

The Diane Arbus exhibition “Revelations,” currently showing at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, is not difficult to attend. The crowds that circled the block to see the major Marc Chagall exhibition earlier this fall are now quite small, leading me to wonder about the hardiness of visual appetites during these times. Bright colors and flying figures, relentless affirmations of religious traditions in the midst of modernity: All this had clear and overwhelming appeal to a general public. But when I asked a few friends to accompany me to Arbus, nearly everyone declined: They had political repugnance for the objectifying photos; they thought it would be “depressing.” To them, Arbus’s photographic gaze seems inappropriately fascinated by human distortions, playing on spectacle, pandering to the unseemly desire to gawk at what might seem aberrant, to peer, to invade. However true these

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