Late last year, I wrote in this very column that I didn’t know if I was gay any more. The long, drawn-out social and cultural lockdown made interacting with other queers more and more of a distant memory – and if queers aren’t bumping uglies in the clubs and bars, do they even exist? When lockdown started seriously easing in the early days of last month, I headed to Berlin’s famed Schwules Museum, which finally opened IRL on May 27, in search of my lost community.
The current exhibition, Intimacy: New Queer Art from Berlin and Beyond, reminded me of what I never should have doubted: queers be making art, bitches. The diverse mixed-media selection, curated by Peter Rehberg and Apostolos Lampropoulos to show how queers interpret intimacy, was the reminder that I needed that we’re here, we’re queer and we’re weird.
It was refreshing to see a small sample of classic queer zines from the 2000s, like BUTT and Original Plumbing, sharing the same space as Sperm Cult, a more recent sex-and-the-occult zine by Berlin-based American painter Elijah Burgher and his LA collaborator Richard Hawkins which was browsable on PDF. Or the large-scale pencil-and-ink drawings of trans artist Roey Victoria Heifetz – spellbindingly intricate illustrations of wrinkled bodies intertwined with fingers – alongside the simple yet warm watercolour explorations of lesbian desire by Kerstin Drechsel.
Berlin-based Brazilian artist Rafael Medina’s sexually explicit, grainy photographs of gay orgies recall scenes from an out-of-print 1970s porno, while Victor Luque’s (to many already familiar) crystal-clear photo of naked bodies half-submerged in water at the WHOLE United Queer Festival at Ferropolis captures a pure moment of looking (and thinking) forward.
The films exhibited also show where we’re at. Award-winning filmmaker Vika Kirchenbauer’s ‘The Island of Perpetual Tickling’ offers a no-frills presentation of the tickling fetish, which is so hot in pop culture at the moment, with a soundtrack that continues to startle once you’ve left its viewing cabin. This is contrasted by Michaela Melián’s ‘Silvia Bovenschen und Sarah Schumann’, a sobering and elegant take on lesbian artistic production.
The exhibition isn’t without its big names either, their works implicitly placing the health crisis of the past (HIV) next to that of today. Annie Liebowitz’s photo of Berlinale and Arsenal shaker Alf Bold sick with AIDS obviously wasn’t taken during Covid times, but this intimate gesture viewed at our current juncture certainly speaks to how closeness and defiance can still persevere. Marlon Riggs, director of the inimitable Tongues Untied (1989), is also featured with the inclusion of his 1991 short ‘Anthem’, a film about Black gay love and society’s attitudes towards HIV.
With 32 different artists exhibited, there’s much more to see than I can describe on this here page. But it must be said that Intimacy does an admirable job of including some great POC artists of various genders, making it a well-balanced offering – although it would have been more intimate if they had included more POC artists from or operating in Berlin.
Yes, we’re a mess. But a lovable, cute mess. And if diving headfirst into illegal Hasenheide raves is too much for you, Intimacy is a perfectly nice way to dip your toes back into Berlin’s queerness.
Intimacy: New Queer Art from Berlin and Beyond, Schwules Museum, Lützowstraße 73, Tiergarten, through Aug 30