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Bidding Adieu

An Arbus collector heads to auction.

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Russian Midget Friends in a Living Room on 100th St., NYC. (1963; est. $20,000 to $30,000), from the sale of the Berman collection.  

Bruce Berman says that when he and his wife began buying Diane Arbus photographs, they avoided her most twisted portraits. “I did admire her pictures,” he says, “but I wasn’t sure how they’d fit into the collection” of mostly traditional work by the likes of Walker Evans. The first Arbus they bought was of the backlot at Universal, where Berman worked. “The thing is, you look at that photo, and it’s not immediately obvious that it was Diane Arbus. It’s not like The House of Horrors, Coney Island.” Never mind that, once the Bermans were hooked, they ended up buying some of the most distinctively Arbusian images, like the Coney photograph and the one above.

Both kinds of images will be at Christie’s on April 10, when the couple’s 50 Arbus prints are going to be sold off. Over the next year, two more portions of the 2,500-piece collection will be sold, including a big block of William Egglestons. Still others will go to three L.A. museums. Berman won’t say why he’s selling, citing “a family situation,” and it can’t be easy to give up a collection assembled so painstakingly. But prices for Arbus in particular have risen hugely over the past couple of decades, so he’ll be nicely compensated. Also, after two decades of frantic bidding, “it’s been really interesting being on the sidelines this year,” he says. “Looking at art with no thought to buying.”


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