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© Courtesy of the artist & Galerie Deschler

Auguststrasse 61
10117 Berlin
October 19th, 2012 - February 16th, 2013
Opening: October 19th, 2012 7:00 PM - 9:00 PM

+49 030 2833288
Tues to Sat 12 to 6


In an exhibition coinciding with the publication by Edition Braus of an extensive
500-page book with roughly 500 photographs taken by the internationally renowned
Berlin painter and sculptor Rainer Fetting, affording the general public
an unprecedented overview of his extensive photographic work, including
countless images never before on view, Galerie Deschler is presenting a large
number of these photographs selected by the artist himself.
The photographs extend back into the late seventies and comprise a range of
different themes and subject matters, from cityscapes and street photography
taken mainly in New York and Berlin, to portraits and nudes all the way to
private snapshots. The images present a veritable treasure trove of documentary
material on the era covered, capturing the specific atmosphere of the two
metropolises and their art scenes, as well as providing insights into Fetting’s
own development as an artist and the evolution of his subject matter in various
media. Even though Fetting’s main interest has consistently been painting and
sculpture, he almost always took a camera along on his excursions, for “photographs,”
in his words, “not only oftentimes replace the sketchbook, but taking
pictures was a fundamental necessity for me, being able to capture places,
landscapes and people with a quick press of the shutter release.”
Upon entering the gallery space the visitor is confronted by two series of selfportraits
created during Fetting’s first stay in New York in 1978, funded by a
German DAAD government grant. On the right is a series photographed in the
subway (Self in Subway), on the left a series that combines self-portraits on
the streets of New York with images of American trucks. The headband Fetting
is wearing in the subway-series was a reference to the movie “Flesh” (1968,
directed by Paul Morrissey and produced by Andy Warhol), featuring the actor
Joe Dallesandro as a young hustler on the streets of New York and wearing just
such a headband. Fetting, who had already been active in the Berlin gay rights
movement and who was also interested in the homosexual scene in New York,
was inspired by the sexual candor of the movie. But the movie’s new aesthetic
of using ostensible technical shortcomings such as camera shake and abrupt
cuts to convey a sense of truthfulness and authenticity also had a strong influence
both on Fetting’s photography and the films he was shooting at the time.
His self-portraits with the truck furthermore allude to Robert de Niro’s famous
impersonation of the “Taxi Driver” in Martin Scorsese’s 1976 film, another important
source of inspiration for Fetting. The theme of the restless young man
seeking fulfillment in the ultimate metropolis is enhanced by an impression of
brute force emanating from the American truck, which must have struck Fetting
as being so much more masculine and raw than their European counterparts.
The series Escape From New York, on the other hand, came about at Fetting’s
precipitous departure from New York and return to Berlin after his gay lifestyle
had led to threats against his person.
A further group of photographs, presented in a ‘salon’ or ‘Petersburg’ hanging,
combines photographs of people from different walks of Fetting’s life: friends,
muses and models, such as Andrea and Susanne, but above all Desmond
Cadogan, featured in various pictures and immortalized in countless paintings
and sculptures, as well as artist colleagues such as Fetting’s one-time partner
Salomé, shown here during a performance in the shop window of the Berlin
Galerie Petersen in 1977, the video artist Stefan Roloff, and Slava Mogutin, the
first Russian to be granted political asylum in the U.S. due to his homosexuality,
photographed as a reclining semi-nude wearing a mask. In the upper center a
picture of Fetting and Helmut Middendorf in a New York cab on their way to
meet Andy Warhol. Another image from the nude series of Gässler (Fetting,
Photography, p. 172 was the basis of several paintings by Fetting (FETTING, pl.
177 f.), one of which was exhibited in the German chancellery for a while.
In the back room we encounter images of the Berlin Wall, revealing Fetting to
be an attentive observer of his time and environment. At a time when the Berlin
Wall was mostly ignored or even tabooed by the art scene, Fetting dedicated a
whole series of photographs and paintings to the Wall, whose monstrous reality
nobody could deny but most chose to ignore. The 1977 photograph of the wall
by Zimmerstrasse is one of a series of images of this particular stretch of the
wall, another one from this very series being the basis of Fetting’s painting from
that same year rendered with violet buildings set against a yellow sky and entitled
“First Painting of the Wall” (FETTING, pl .43, today in the collection of the
Städel Museum). The oppressively somber black-and-white image with its stark
composition of unremitting candor provides a marked contrast to the night-time
photographs of the Wall, such as those by Sebastianstrasse, where the Wall is
almost made to disappear in a play of lights. Fetting exhibited a similar eye for
urban zones that receive less attention in his fascination with the old wooden
Hudson River piers in New York, previously a meeting ground for the gay
scene, as well as in numerous photographs taken in New York subway stations.
Despite the historically highly interesting content of many of Fetting’s photographs,
they are not documentary in nature, being in too high a degree shaped
by his vision as a painter and by his infallible sense of composition. Fetting is
less interested in an exact depiction of reality than he is in the capturing of
transient moments and painterly effects, an impression that is frequently enhanced
by camera shake and blur. This is particularly apparent in many of the
subway pictures exhibited in the basement, as well as in the photograph of the
Twin Towers, again a play of colors and light effects that seems to dissolve the
concrete materiality of the depicted architectural structures. The blurring of clear
outlines in favor of painterly impressionistic color fields is most vivid in the
photographs of New York cabs with their yellow planes and red accents set
against blue or dark backgrounds.
In Fetting’s photographs, it seems, even more than in his paintings, art and life
have merged. The dividing line between private snapshots and photography
motivated by artistic intention is obliterated and can often no longer be made
out. The photograph of Desmond reflected in the bathroom mirror, with Fetting’s
own reflection visible behind him, can emblematically represent Fetting’s photography
in general: the picture draws us in simultaneously with its intimacy, its
composition, and as a self-portrait of the photographer in action. In these photographs,
the modernist’s battle-cry for the unity of life and art has become reality,
the distinction of separate realms obsolete. In their very own aesthetic of spontaneous
immediacy these images are interesting and vibrant in both form and
subject matter. As such they go far beyond their documentary aspect in conveying
Fetting’s visual experience of the world in which he lives and moves and
which is reflected in his art. They not only provide fascinating glimpses into the
development of his paintings and sculptures, but are works of art in themselves.