In my book HUBERT’S FREAKS Bob Langmuir has an important meeting with Jeff Rosenheim, curator of photography at New York’s Metropolitan Museum. Jeff clears up some preliminary misunderstandings on Bob’s part by telling him, “We’ve already done an Arbus show. I want to do a Hubert’s show.”
It’s a critical moment in the story, as Bob comes to understand another aspect of the archive he’s discovered. But it also speaks well for Rosenheim’s curatorial insight and intelligence. The strange subculture of freak shows and sideshows, and how Diane Arbus interacted with it, would indeed make for a fascinating exhibition.
Now, whether by means I’ve speculated about in earlier blog entries, or through some yet-to-be-discovered scenario, it seems at least possible that Bob Langmuir’s Arbus/Hubert’s archive might wind up with the rest of the Arbus Estate’s holdings – in the care of the Metropolitan Museum. Such an outcome would probably be satisfactory to the Estate, who would once again have control over the rogue archive thrown before the public by the intractable Langmuir. But it might also result in the Hubert’s exhibition Jeff Rosenheim has been longing to assemble at the Met, which would be a terrific thing.
Such were my thoughts as I finished a long phone conversation yesterday with a man named Preston Mardenborough. Preston had run away from home and, at the age of sixteen, wound up spending a lot of time at Hubert’s, eventually finding part-time employment there. He remembered Charlie Lucas, Woogie, Sealo the Seal Boy, Congo the Jungle Creep and Andy Potato Chips - all subjects of Arbus’s photographs - and he asked after them as eagerly as someone at a high school reunion might ask after absent friends.
Preston is just one of a number of surviving Hubert’s alums. Jack Dracula, Presto the Magician, Richard del Borgo, Ward Hall, and Bobby Reynolds are still with us, and who knows how many others might be out there somewhere – alive, kicking, and full of stories about Hubert’s and maybe even about Arbus?
I hope Jeff Rosenheim gets to do his Hubert’s show at the Met, and I hope all the old freaks go to see it. Wouldn’t that be a lovely scene – giants, midgets, tattooed men and bearded ladies trooping through those hallowed halls? Can senior citizens still eat fire? Swallow swords? What happens to tattoos after 50 years? Does anyone still remember how to train fleas?
It would make a great panel discussion on the night of the opening. Surely the Met would give it a dignified, academic-sounding title. And they’d have to get phone books for the midgets to sit on, low chairs for the giants, and translators for the wildmen and geeks, but it would be a splendid event, well worth the extra effort.
Give me a call anytime, Jeff. I've got their contact info.