Friday, September 21, 2007

Revelations at the Lisette Model show at Aperture

The new show at Aperture is a real pleasure. It's a pleasure partly because one can always find new depths in the work of Model. Certainly part of the pleasure is the intelligent and layered hanging of the works chosen (kudos go to Diana Edkins and Larry Fink, co-curators of the exhibit). But, for me, the most pleasurable aspect of the show was the revelation of the work of her less well-known succesors.

I think most followers of photography are familiar with the opus of Diane Arbus. Followers of fashion work are probably aware of Bruce Weber. But I imagine that the other artists included in the show are not household names except to the most devoted photography lovers. Clearly, this should not be so, and perhaps this show will make headway into changing that.

The work of Bruce Cratsley occupies the entire east wall of the gallery and is the first work I saw as I entered the show. A photograph called "For Lisette" is the curtain opener.

Dark, edgy, mysterious...this is a perfect emblem for the whole show and a clear riff on Model's "Running Legs" series we see later in the show. Cratsley was a brilliant printer. The surfaces and tonal ranges of his prints support and augment the introspective and personal world he illustrates. After looking at just 3 or 4 photos I wondered why I wasn't more familiar with this artist. He seems to have no fear to explore any personal subject. Cratsley seemed to live Model's encomium "Don't click the shutter until the experience makes you feel embarassed". He is present at the sickbed and the deathbed of friends and lovers, and he turns the camera on himself with the same honesty with which he uses to explore extreme close-up portraits. This is wonderful work.

Mr. Cratsley's photos inform some gentle themes that run through the show. I say gentle because Ms Edkins and Mr. Fink present these themes as natural running currents, not as a didactic club. Self portraits are everywhere, but none are more honest and unflinching as Rosalind Solomon's.

Ms Solomon is known more for documentary work and has other powerful images in the show, but this is the one that haunts. Her eyes sear out of the photograph asking and accusing at the same time. Her two fingers censoring her pursed lips reflect onto the title, "Self portrait after 9/11", and make me wonder what combination of horror, anger, and sadness are being held in.

Another theme is portraiture of friends, colleagues, and lovers. This show makes it clear that these artists existed in a community. Peter Hujar photographs Lynn Davis and Gary Indiana, and Bruce Weber photographs Louise Bourgeois; Bruce Cratsley shows his partner from health to last breaths. It was fascinating to make my way through the show multiple times looking for connections and relationships.
Bruce Weber portrait of Louise Bourgeois.

Last on my list of special mention is Leon Levinstein. Mr. Levinstein delights in showing us the strange that resides in the normal and the normal that resides in the strange. We've experienced this perspective before because Lisette Model put it into our culture's visual cortex and then her most famous pupil, Diane Arbus, burned it in as if we'd looked at the sun without a filter. Still, Mr. Levinstein has his own syntax and adds a little dark humor besides. His untitled rear-view portrait could not be more prosaic or more strange but somehow stays in the mind's eye long after.

It's a fitting coda to an exhibition that shows how beautifully an artistic and pedagogical legacy can enrich and inform a cultural dialogue for generations. This is a remarkable show and a home run for Aperture. If you love photography, don't miss it.

1 comment:

  1. I wholeheartedly agree with you. This is a stunning show. Many of the prints have a sensual, luscious quality that really contrasts to some of the highly pixelated digital prints I saw in Chelsea this weekend (Larry Clark, for example). This is a show that I feel that I need to see again to really pull together the threads of Model's influence on a generation of photographers.