Few photographers are as influential as Helmut Newton. The German artist’s career spanned decades and he left his imprint across the worlds of fashion, photography, fine art and more. In 1999 iconic book publisher TASCHEN released its first monumental art book titled Helmut Newton’s SUMO. The tomb was presented in exceptionally large format measuring 70 x 50 cm, included a metal stand designed by Philipp Stark and all 10,000 copies were signed by Newton himself. Upon its release, the world was shocked by the book’s superfluous size but its importance and images were undeniable and it quickly became iconic. To top it off, a celebrity signed copy for a charity event became the most expensive photo book of the 20th century.
In 2009, Berlin’s Helmut Newton Foundation staged an entire show dedicated to the legendary book. The exhibition contained all 464 images from SUMO framed, hung and displayed side by side to be viewed literally all at once. For many it was the first time the contents could be seen in person and it would go on to be an important moment in the museum’s history. Now, 10 years after the first exhibition and 20 years after the book release, SUMO returns to its original home for a new presentation of the stunning photographs.
To compliment SUMO, there is also Three Boys From Pasadena, an exhibition featuring Newton’s former assistants, Mark Arbeit, George Holz and Just Loomis. Each artist will be given their own space where Arbeit will show life sized photograms of female models as well as toy dolls. Holz will present his Hollywood portraits which include Madonna, Nicolas Cage and a now infamous photo of Donald and Melania Trump. In the third room, Just Loomis builds on his Americana series from 1999 with fabulous “Backstage” works showing the other side of the glitz and glamor of the modeling industry. As if that were not enough, also included is the private photo collection of Helmut and June Newton. This is a dedicated space showcasing some of the couple’s personal photographs which were located at their home in Monte Carlo. As expected, this is a breathtaking presentation which includes works by other artists, signed photos and beyond. A must see and an intimate look into the couple’s life.
To celebrate the opening of SUMO, we are thrilled to present a Q&A with the show’s curator Matthias Harder. We speak with Mr. Harder about reviving the show, the everlasting influence of Newton and more. See below.
The Brvtalist: 20 years after the SUMO publication and 10 years after the first exhibition, what was the inspiration to revive the SUMO and stage this show?
Matthias Harder: We already organized exhibitions on the basis of Newton’s publication at the Helmut Newton Foundation in the past, and this transformation is extraordinary: you are surrounded by iconic pictures in the exhibition rooms which you normally see just on doubles pages in a book and in a different size. SUMO is not only an incredible publication in an enormous size and amount of 464 pages, as an exhibition of these pages it is also an unforgettable experience for all visitors.
TB: How does this show differ, if at all, from the previous exhibitions?
MH: Sometimes we display Newton’s vintage prints, sometimes posthumous ones. We have a huge in-house-archive and do exhibitions on all different topics of Newton’s oeuvre. But the SUMO show spreads out all facets and genres of his work. It is a “best-of” compiled by Helmut and June Newton in 1999 and thus, it is still very authentic. We can follow his unrivaled career over the years with our eyes from page to page – and see on the other hand all in once.
TB: Talk about the importance/inclusion of Newton's assistants with Three Boys From Pasadena.
MH: It was in California around 1980 that Newton met three young photography students: Mark Arbeit, George Holz, and Just Loomis, who would assist him with his work in the following years. The apprenticeship became friendship over the years, and now you can find more than 50 photographs per artist and exhibition room at the Helmut Newton Foundation. Looking at the work of Arbeit, Holz, and Loomis today, we can detect some influence of Newton and sometimes other photographers like Man Ray and Irving Penn, even though they have each developed their own unique style. Thus, I am very happy to be able to host this show again, ten years later, extended by new work from the Three Boys from Pasadena.
*Below from left: Mark Arbeit - Shoes #2, Homage to Helmut Newton (2018) copyright Mark Arbeit; George Holz - Nicolas Cage (Badlands, NY 1999) copyright George Holz; Just Loomis - Anne V Versace (Milan 2004) copyright Just Loomis
TB: Newton's work remains as popular as ever and continues to be discovered by new, younger fans. In your view, what are some reasons for this?
MH: In the current show, you see again a great selection of images, full of timeless elegance and subtle seduction. Newton transcended genres, bringing style and voyeurism to fashion and glamour photography – which not only describes but also redefines the spirit of the times. He tells us exciting and surprising stories with images. And this works until now. Therefore, I am not surprised by the younger Newton fans that we find nowadays also via the social media channels.
TB: Any closing thoughts about the exhibition?
MH: We are happy about the long-time collaboration with TASCHEN publishing that distributes the SUMO and other Newton books to many places worldwide. We can be pretty proud, with the engagement of our Foundation and such partners, that we fulfill our aim: Helmut Newton still lives on.
Thank you to Matthias Harder for speaking with us! SUMO, Three Boys from Pasadena and the private photo collection of Helmut and June Newton is on view now until November 10th. For more information visit: https://helmut-newton-foundation.org/en/