What makes the nudes he photographs evoke such heated reactions even today? Since they were created, eroticism is no longer taboo. Porn? Probably the most pornographic I found was a plucked chicken with its legs spread, juxtaposed with expensive jewellery.
His name was Helmut Neustädter. He became famous as Helmut Newton. A name that has attracted attention for several decades. And since 1975, when he first exhibited photographs at the Nikon gallery in Paris, it has guaranteed an impressive turnout. Once again, engineer Mammon's golden thought comes true: 'I like the songs I know'. We are most keen to see works that we have already seen many times. I could see this once again in Vienna, at the exhibition "Helmut Newton. Legacy"
Anyone familiar with the capital of the former empire will know that the Kunstforum, a prestigious gallery owned by BaCa, the Bank of Austria, is located right in the middle of the city at the historic 8 Freyung Street, right next to the Hofburg Castle, but also... adjacent to the former (men's) pleasure quarter. And also next to the square where the famous Christmas and Easter fairs take place.
The Kunstforum building itself, built in the Art Nouveau style, stands out from afar: a huge golden sphere shines above the entrance. Inside, the interior is also opulent with marble, columns and gleaming floors. Works from renowned private and public collections are on display here. This time, the choice fell on Berlin's Helmut Newton Foundation. The show prepared by the foundation was to be the highlight of the Bank Austria Kunstforum in 2020 - to mark the centenary of the birth of the creator of the photographic style described as "porno shick".
Prohibited until the age of 14
These plans were thwarted by a pandemic. But the two-year delay has only whetted the appetite for Newton's inheritance. It was certainly also driven by German director Gero von Boehm's 2020 documentary "Beauty and the Beast", incidentally screened during the exhibition....
An additional lure has become... age censorship. The viewing of "The Legacy" is banned for young people under the age of fourteen, due to the (allegedly) appalling shots. Almost two decades after Newton's death! In an age of rampant pornography on the internet. However...
Newton's photos read in the context of the #MeToo movement began to be seen as 'sexist'. After all, the same photos were published dozens of times in albums, including in glamour magazines 50-40 years ago. Have we become more prudish than we were decades ago?
Who is most likely to visit the 'Legacy' exhibition? Some of the audience are beneficiaries, perhaps even participants, of the sexual revolution of the 1960s. There are also red-hot feminists and #MeToo activists ready to burn Newton's work at the stake.
Misogynist and sexist - these are the mildest terms he faced both in his lifetime and today. These invectives immediately collide with a counter: conversely, the photographer elevated women. He put them on a pedestal. He gave them power, or rather - he willingly gave up male domination.
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Monika Małkowska Translated by Tomasz Krzyżanowski