Photographer Lisette Model once told her students at the New School, “Photography is the easiest art, which perhaps makes it the hardest.” How true—painting and drawing demand specialized training, but everyone takes snapshots, so the Vienna-born Model (1901–1983) instilled in her pupils a search for beauty beyond the surfeit of information that even banal photographs deliver. Her 1937 shot of a man sleeping on a Paris bench transforms his body into an enervated diagonal against the stone. A decade later, after moving to New York, Model framed a woman’s leg striding down Fifth Avenue, black wedge of high heel echoed by a chevron of light below the knee, a burst of abstraction alive with postwar dynamism. Works from more than a dozen of the artists Model instructed have been brought together in this huge show, which includes Diane Arbus’s “backwards man” in his ratty hotel room, face turned in one direction, feet in the other, under a naked lightbulb casting grim, Francis Bacon–like shadows. A 1991 image by Bruce Cratsley features a poster that has been run over in an East Village street, tire marks crenellating the printed face like the cracks in an old master; his image of an AIDS patient clutching stuffed animals is lit with the pathos of a Caravaggio. The misty illumination of public baths and steam rooms imbues Ruth Kaplan’s recent nudes with the monumentality of marble sculptures—a direct line back to the visceral vitality that Model discovered over and over again in her own compositions.
Approach the six-foot-wide screen textured like an oversize wicker basket, and clacking gears begin to whir as a dark figure coalesces before you. Stand still, and the 768 C-shape rings—graduated from light beige to umber—spin and jitter before finally settling into a chiaroscuro likeness of your own body. Nearby hangs a tondo, more than three feet in diameter and constructed from 650 wooden dowels, each end cut at the same angle. Walk toward it, and the dowels rotate to catch light or cast shadow, another surveillance unit from a steam-punk future where the algorithms are nimble but someone forgot to invent the video screen, leaving us with pixels carved from the material world. The last of these fascinating computer-generated mirrors feels like a forgotten Twilight Zone transmission: Snowy static drifts down a diaphanous black curtain as your image lags behind your movements to create stop-motion ghosts in the machine. Bitforms, 529 W 20th, 212-366-6939. Through October 6.
‘View (Thirteen): Practical F/X’
Hilary Berseth compels bee colonies to do his bidding, constructing molds that force hives into spiral towers, pyramids, and other unexpected shapes. (Do the bees notice? Do they care?) The honeycomb surfaces are sumptuously ragged, sepia ruins of an industrious civilization. Also included in this group show of eight artists are Mariah Robertson’s photographs of banal scenes (a stair railing; the shadows cast by patio furniture) shot through colored filters, which lend them the portentous theatricality of empty sets. Tim Davis’sThe Horrorists, on the other hand, is all about dramatis personae: A photograph captures the artist on a roller coaster looking grim amid the screaming revelers surrounding him, the shot framed within an enlarged detail of Christ’s spear wound from a de Ribera painting. An upturned bloody arc, the agonized wound resembles a full-lipped smile—terror as ecstasy.Mary Boone, 745 Fifth Avenue, 212-752-2929. Through October 27.
Clayton Patterson: ‘The Lower East Side’
“Little Brother is watching Big Brother!” boasts Clayton Patterson as he brandishes a camera in an ’80s video. Patterson’s video clips of protests, riots, and police brutality on the Lower East Side, along with scores of photographs and his collection of street ephemera (one kaleidoscopic vitrine holds glassine bags stamped with drug dealers’ logos), capture a ramshackle neighborhood spiritually zoned for the unfettered id. Patterson’s portraits of demimonde denizens include folks festooned with Queequeg-ish skin art, a woman waving gaily from the entry flap of her cardboard home, and a wide-eyed youth with a razor blade concealed in his mouth. Now approaching 60, Patterson has resided on Essex Street since 1983, and his life and work are fused like a tattoo on a bicep. Kinz, Tillou+Feigen, 529 W 20th, 212-929-0500. Through October 27.
Laura Battle and Sarah Lutz
Battle’s precisely drawn grids coalesce into penumbral form. In 2006’s Time Piece (for Emma Kunz), the point of a cone emerges from thousands of intersecting pencil lines into Euclidian luminescence. Lutz’s thick oil paint conjures pungent vegetation and torpid creatures that coagulate into a chromatic loam at the bottom of her 30-inch-high canvases, the atmosphere above ripe with humid blues and smoggy pinks. Buy someone a drink for pairing this disparate duo—they’re opposite sides of a beautifully funky coin. Lohin Geduld, 531 W 25th, 212-675-2656. Through October 13.
That old bit about a magician sawing his comely assistant in two has been given a twist here. A pair of legs juts from a long, rectangular cabinet, which faces a much smaller box, as if the trick has been performed at the neck rather than at the waist. Two videos play behind the sculpture: In one, a magician (head obscured by an oversize top hat) coaxes a haunting air from a musical saw; the other features an oscillating fan blowing across the mouths of six water-filled bottles. Is it a cyclical dirge for that missing head? Or a celebration of the brain’s artifacts? It’s to Isenstein’s credit that she can’t seem to make up her mind. Andrew Kreps, 525 W 22nd, 212-741-8849. Through October 20.