Portraits of Time and Place- Lisette Model Photographs

Oct 12, 2011 •

Lisette Model showing in Chelsea

There are few galleries in New York City that approach their mission as thoughtfully as Bruce Silverstein Gallery. Silverstein’s exhibitions are curated with consistent care and intellectual rigor. The current show, Self-Reflections: The Expressionist Origins of Lisette Model, is a stunning examination of the relationship between Model and the German expressionist painters of her era. The show also seeks to link Model’s fabulous photographs of cabaret musicians to her aesthetic relationship with the composer Arnold Schoenberg. Personally, I could have done without the constant, somewhat grating record of Schoenberg that plays in the back gallery, but it ultimately doesn’t detract from the glowing vintage photographs.

Model’s photographs were taken in parallel to the great, politically radical visual artists of the 1930s. Max Beckmann, George Grosz and Otto Dix are but a few of the brave artists who portrayed Germany and its coming nightmare in their work at the time. The pairings in this exhibition are sublime—Grosz’s ironic drawing “People Are Basically Good,” portraying three block-headed thugs sitting around a table, cigarettes clenched in their teeth, double chins hanging over their collars, is perfectly matched with three Model photographs of overfed German gents of the same era in various stiff, clench-jawed poses.

Such parallels repeat throughout the exhibition. The very large man in a striped shirt that Model photographs in “Circus Man: Nice,” could have stepped right out of the adjacent drawing by Karl Hubbuch entitled “On The Beach in St. Malo.” By making these connections, the gallery has placed Model’s photographs in a historic, political and visual context that grants her work a sense of place and an enhanced level of resonance. This is a gorgeous show. The luscious gelatin silver prints remind us of everything that digital can’t do, and their juxtaposition to potent and vibrant political drawings makes this a valuable art history lesson as well as an aesthetic delight.

Self-Reflections: The Expressionist Origins of Lisette Model
Through Nov. 12, Bruce Silverstein Gallery, 535 W. 24th St., 212-267-3930,
www.brucesilverstein.com.

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