Berlin’s tumultuous history is at the heart of Berlin, 1945-2000: A Photographic Subject at the Reinbeckhallen Collection of Contemporary Art Foundation. Part of European Month of Photography (EMOP), it features over 200 works by 23 German and international photographers. It might be a trek out to Oberschöneweide, but if you’ve never ventured past Plänterwald, here’s a good reason to! It’s worth it just for the exhibition space, a century-old factory complex that once made transformers and AEG high-voltage systems. Now, the former industrial setting has been repurposed by the Stiftung Reinbeckhallen to house art exhibitions, workshops, film screenings and more. Its art studios, which the Foundation rents out to cooperating artists, regularly show household names such as Olafur Eliasson and Alicja Kwade.
Berlin, 1945-2000 curator Candice M. Hamelin, a Canadian art historian, specialises in East German photography but has also managed to incorporate artists from the West and abroad, notably Arno Fisher and Anno Wilms from West Berlin and American photographers Will McBride and Nan Goldin. Other prominent names are Sibylle Bergemann, Evelyn Richter, and Miron Zownir. Together, these artists’ work, some of which have never been exhibited before, present a multifaceted perspective of Berlin from Stunde Null to the fall of the Berlin Wall and life after.
The exhibition includes all of the expected vistas, from the harrowing black and white images of Trümmerfrauen shovelling debris into wheelbarrows in the immediate postwar period to the 1989 snapshots of victorious Berliners cheering on top of the Wall. But it also includes entirely new and unique perspectives of the city: Stroll down Karl-Ludwig Lange’s Oranienstraße (1977), a total of 41 photographs of every building on that street in chronological order, inspired by the conceptual work of American photographer Ed Ruscha in his Every Building on Sunset Strip (1966). Perhaps the most conspicuous thing about the flat storefronts displaying ghostly mannequins and sports gear is what’s missing: people. Without reading the title, you might think it were in the East.
Another highlight is the series Berlin Noir (1977-2016) by Miron Zownir, who moved to West Berlin in the mid-1970s. It depicts the grittier sides of the city before and after the Mauerfall, its rundown bars and S&M clubs. Some images are comical, like the man crawling to kiss his distrustful dog, or the beaming woman posing nude and spread-eagled on a sofa. Others are more unsettling; a couple embracing on the muddy site of the torn-down wall. Clutching a bottle, the man flashes a toothy grin at the camera. Behind them, a gruesome statue of the crucified Christ, encircled by barbed wire.
Hamelin’s goal is to raise “critical questions about perception and the photographic process by offering multiple perspectives of [the] city.” It’s an ambitious goal, perhaps too ambitious – and for all its hits and highlights, the exhibition as a whole feels too broad in scope to leave you with a single lasting impression. Perhaps this is exactly the point: to present a chaotic, broken, and paradoxical city. There will be at least one image that stays with you as you make your way out of the old factory complex. Use the opportunity to grab a piece of Käsekuchen at the nearby art café and reflect some more by thumbing through the exhibition’s photography book. You’ve come all that way: gönn’s dir!
Berlin, 1945-2000: A Photographic Subject | Reinbeckhallen Collection of Contemporary Art Foundation, through May 30