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PRESS PREVIEW 05.12.2018, 4.30 PM
OPENING 05.12.2018, 6 PM


Lisette Model, Diane Arbus and Nan Goldin: WestLicht presents three great American photographers whose images radically expanded contemporary perspectives on society. Over three generations, they formulated the dialogue between photographer and subject anew, each in her own way, combining documentary and subjective elements. Their personal view of humanity and its disparate realities of life, their approach to the existential, and their use of photography as a medium went hand in hand with their critique of existing norms, vigorously questioning cultural and aesthetic convention. Therefore, on the one hand their works express their times and the different milieus they moved in, while paying homage to the multiple facets of existence on the other.


A native of Vienna, Lisette Model (1901–83) preferred to train her camera – first in France, then, after emigrating in 1938, in New York – on people at both ends of the social spectrum. Whether underdog or millionaire, the photographer’s instinct for weaknesses and special characters is intensified through her images to a revealing sharpness, pointing beyond the individual to social structure and conditions. Her visual compositions, especially the unusual proximity with which she photographed people on the street, challenged existing visual habits and laid the groundwork for a new style of street photography, merging the influence of surrealism with a social activist’s approach to documentary photography. Model’s attitude and visual idiom influenced several generations of photographers, including Diane Arbus, her most well-known student.


While studying with Lisette Model in the late 1950s, the New Yorker Diane Arbus (1923–71) acquired the techniques which were ultimately to define her work. By recording human flaws and masquerades, her portraits point out the rifts and margins of society. They stage and accentuate the strangeness within the familiar and the humdrum within the grotesque. Now considered icons of photographic history, Arbus’ portraits of human beings insist on visualizing the difference which she herself so befittingly called the “gap between intention and effect” of those portrayed. To capture this complex field of tension between self-perception, wishful images and performance within precise pictures – that can be considered the core competence of an artist who may have been an empathetic accomplice of her subjects, but who never shied away from the unmasking effect of photography.


Even if the work of Nan Goldin (*1953) cannot be imagined without Arbus and Model, it differs essentially from their output, given the uncompromising insider position of the photographer who reflected herself and her scene – New York’s subculture and LGBT community of the late 1970s and early 1980s – in touching portraits: in front of mirrors, in bars and bathrooms, having sex and consuming drugs, as part of a culture of exuberance and fear, obsession and addiction. Often taken with insufficient light and in motion, Goldin’s characteristic snapshots have created an intimate monument to her friends.

An exhibition in cooperation with the Stiftung F.C. Gundlach, Hamburg, and the Jelitzka Collection, Vienna, with additional loans from: Bank Austria Art Collection, Vienna, Keitelman Gallery, Brussels, Baudoin Lebon, Paris, Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg, OstLicht Collection and the Sammlung Verbund Collection, Vienna

Curated by Gerald A. Matt and Rebekka Reuter

The accompanying exhibition catalogue is published by Verlag für moderne Kunst, edited by Daniel Jelitzka and Gerald A. Matt, preface by Peter Coeln and Roland Jörg, texts by Astrid Mahler, Franziska Mecklenburg and Rebekka Reuter.

Press contact
Stefan Musil
T +43 (0)676 9316665