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Berlin Pulls Off Arts Coup

The German capital may be bankrupt, but its arts scene can still pack a punch. In its latest triumph, the city is to acquire the seminal collection of its prominent son, photographer Helmut Newton.


"I'm a feminist" - Helmut Newton with one of his controversial nudes

It was something Helmut Newton said he’d always do - donate his entire photographic archive, many of nude women, to his home town, Berlin. After much media speculation and rumors in art circles, the world-renowed photographer seems to be holding true to his word.

The 82-year-old German-born, Jewish star photographer, who is best known for his sensational nudes, has decided to hand over his life's work to the German capital.

And although the contracts have yet to be signed, Michael Donermeyer, spokesperson for the Berlin city government told DW-WORLD it was now “highly likely” that the collection would come to Berlin.

“I fell in love with that building”

Newton admitted that it was Berlin’s mayor, Klaus Wowereit who finally convinced him to give his collection to the city, during “a rather charming reception” at Berlin’s city hall (known as the Roten Rathaus) last summer.

If all goes to plan, the extensive set of photographs will eventually be housed in the former Art library in the western Charlottenburg district of the city according to Newton’s wishes.

“I fell in love with that building,” Newton told Berlin broadsheet, Berliner Morgenpost, explaining that it had been the last building he'd seen when he left Berlin in 1938 to escape the Nazis.

From Germany to Down Under

Helmut Newton is regarded as one of the most important fashion and portrait photographers of the 20th century. Born to a Jewish-German button magnate and an American in Berlin in 1920, he began learning his trade from the renowned fashion photographer Yva in 1936. Two years later Newton and his family fled Nazi Germany. The 18-year old made his way alone to Australia via Singapore and participated in World War II as a soldier on the side of his newly-adopted country.

After the war Newton set up a studio in Melbourne and first has his photos published in Australian Vogue in 1952. By 1961 he was spending most of his time shooting fashion in Paris, but by 1981, Newton had “retired” to Monaco to devote himself to portrait and commercial photography.

Controversial Amazons

Helmut Newton Fotografien

Helmut Newton

Newton turned to photographing nudes in the 1980s and these pictures are famous for what is regarded as blatantly cold eroticism, a mixture of eroticism and decadence. Newton has frequently stirred up controversy with his images of naked Amazon-like beauties, often photographed gleaming with oil and engaging in banal activities.

But Newton insists that he shows women as strong personalities, not as victims. "I am a feminist," Newton recently told the German magazine Stern.

And the photographer also claims his images don’t hide any messages. “You can drill as long as you want, but you won’t find anything on the inside,” he has maintained on many occasions. Another coup

Gaining the Helmut Newton collection is the latest arts coup for the city, which recently convinced art collector, Friederich-Christian Flick to house his collection there from 2004.

Flick’s 2,000-work collection is one of the largest holdings of contemporary art in the world and includes works by Bruce Nauman, Marcel Duchamp, Piet Mondrian, Kurt Schwitters, Gerhard Richter, Signmar Polke, Richard Serra, On Kawara and Nam June Paik.

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