An Occupation of Loss, In the Beginning, and Remembering Light

The three exhibitions I wanted to focus on that we saw are Taryn Simon’s “An Occupation of Loss”, Diane Arbus’s “In the Beginning” and Sally Mann’s “Remembering Light” The reason why I chose to write about these three exhibits is because they all somehow had an over arching theme of death, grief, or sadness somehow. Taryn Simon’s exhibit was extremely interesting and very much unlike her past work in terms of installation. Her work is very much research based as this one was as well based on the pamphlet given to you as you exit the installation space but this piece much much about grieving and grieving rituals so it had many emotional components to it as well. We weren’t able to see the performance piece that went along with the installation that included a long descending staircase to be confronted with eleven cement circular towers almost 50 feet high, opened at the top and arranged in a semicircle inside of the Park Avenue Armory which were hollowed out and you could go inside them and make whatever kind of sound you wanted to make or just use it as a meditative space. Jerry Saltz wrote in an article that the installation was a little something like this; “the woman seated on a bench as she cried, tears running down her cheeks, rocking back and forth, thumping her thigh, moaning, singing, and speaking words I couldn’t understand. I knew this was a universal language of loss and inconsolability. I heard these sounds come out of me only once in my life; when I stood on Ninth Street and Fifth Avenue and wailed as I watched the first tower fall on September 11, 2001.”[1]


The work of Diane Arbus was a collection of outtakes from her archive that her daughter collected from the first seven years of Arbus’s career from 1957-1962. It was exactly what you would expect Arbus’s work to be, but it was interesting to see work she hadn’t shown before. Gangbangers, gangsters, couples, circus freaks, strangers, street photography, transvestites, pictures from Coney Island, pictures of horrifying film stills from movies, murderers and death scenes from the Wax Museum in Coney Island, little people, people dying, Siamese twins in a container at a carnival tent and other characters whose normality was perceived by the general populace as ugly or surreal; heavy content. They also showed some of her classic work such as her work of the identical twins, nudists, etc. Alongside some of the people who worked at the same time as her such as Lee Friedlander to put the work into context. The reason her work is so closely related to death as well is because Diane Arbus took her own life by ingesting barbiturates and slashing her wrists with a razor during an artist residency in New York City.


Finally, my favorite work was the work of Sally Mann. This work came to me as very uncharacteristic of her, devoid of her usual process. She took pictures in the studio of the artist of Cy Twombly after his death, in that, remembering own her son’s death. In while preparing an exhibition of these photos, Sally Mann suffered a sudden loss; her eldest child, Emmett, who had struggled with schizophrenia in adulthood, took his own life, at the age of 36. Sally Mann and Cy Twombly were good friends and both grew up and living in the south. The images are intimate and clean yet devoid of life, some with just the play of light on the wall and floor of the emptied studio. The work is infused with grief.


[1] Saltz, Jerry. “With ‘An Occupation of Loss,’ Taryn Simon Brings You Face-to-Face With Death.” The Vulture. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Sept. 2016.

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