Helmut Newton: White Women • Sleepless Nights • Big Nudes
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
July 3 through September 25, 2011
Exhibition Presents 205 Images from Artist’s First Three Groundbreaking Books,
Some as Life-size Prints
The first large-scale U.S. exhibition of Helmut Newton’s work premieres at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, on July 3. Helmut Newton: White Women • Sleepless Nights • Big Nudes encompasses the entire contents of his first three groundbreaking books. Newton (1920-2004) survived Nazi Germany as a self-supporting, nomadic teenager to emerge a world-renowned photographer. He first cemented his international reputation as the supreme recorder of female identity with his early books White Women (1976), Sleepless Nights (1978), and Big Nudes (1982). 205 of the provocateur’s photographs from these publications will be displayed for the first time in their entirety at the MFAH, on view through September 25, 2011 in the Audrey Jones Beck Building. A complete set of the prints in the exhibition have been acquired by the MFAH.
Originally conceived by June Newton, the artist’s widow, Helmut Newton is organized by Manfred Heiting, an Amsterdam-based collector and friend of the Newtons, with Anne Tucker, the MFAH’s Gus and Lyndall Wortham Curator of Photography.
“Helmut Newton’s images moved beyond the accepted standard of how females could be portrayed, and many women found their own sexuality empowered by his work,” said Tucker. “His distinct, risqué photographs present what were, arguably, the world’s most beautiful models in a range of personalities.”
“I always wanted to show the man behind the camera, and I believe this exhibition succeeds perfectly,” said Heiting.
The prints that will be displayed in Helmut Newton: White Women • Sleepless Nights • Big Nudes were made specifically for the exhibition and are large-scale—some reaching nearly 8 x 8 feet. All the works are taken from Newton’s first three books, published over the course of six years (1976-82), which established him as the definitive modern photographer of women.
The acquisition of 205 Helmut Newton prints are in addition to the 4,000-plus photographs in Manfred Heiting’s collection that the MFAH acquired in 2002 and 2004. Newton is now among the great photographers represented in-depth within the MFAH’s photography collection, significantly increasing the museum’s representation of the influential, 20th century artist.
About Helmut Newton
Born Helmut Neustädter in 1920 to a well-to-do Berlin family and interested in photography early on, Newton purchased his first camera at 12 and as a teenager apprenticed with noted German theatrical photographer Yva (Else Simon, who later perished at Auschwitz). The passing of the anti-Semitic Nuremberg Laws in 1935 drastically worsened his family’s situation, however, as his father lost control of his factory and was briefly interned in a concentration camp. The Kristallnacht attacks of November 1938 forced Newton’s parents to flee to Chile; the 18-year-old Newton traveled alone to Singapore.
In the fall of 1940 Newton’s life took another radical turn: he was interned by British authorities as an “enemy alien,” shipped to Australia, and placed in a camp from 1940 to 1942. He was released to serve in the Australian Army until the end of the war, gaining Australian citizenship in 1945 and changing his name to Newton. Finally a free agent, he opened a photography studio in Melbourne and met his wife, June Browne, an actress who posed for him. She went on to play an integral role in Newton’s career: she modeled for him, curated his exhibitions, and edited his books (including the three publications the MFAH exhibition is based on). She also became a photographer herself, shooting under the pseudonym Alice Springs.
The couple traveled Europe and Australia during the 1950s, when Newton shot for British and Australian Vogue, and settled in 1961 in Paris, where Newton joined French Vogue. As American Vogue editor Anna Wintour states in the exhibition catalogue, Newton’s work went on to be “synonymous with Vogue at its most glamorous and mythic.” With top photographers Horst P. Horst, Irving Penn, Herb Ritts, and Richard Avedon, Newton transformed fashion photography from a mere photographic report of current styles to an alluring presentation with mis-en-scene and a narrative. In addition to his magazine work, Newton was also much sought-after for commissions by a variety of institutions, from fashion houses and jewelry designers to car manufacturers. In many cases, Newton would be on a professional shoot and adjust the shots to become more sexually suggestive, adding these second “takes” to his personal body of work.
By the end of his life Newton had received many awards, including the Grand Prix National de la Ville de Paris and Commander in the Order of Arts and Letters. In 2000, the Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin, held a major retrospective for Newton on the occasion of his 80th birthday—also organized by Heiting—and the show traveled to London, New York, Tokyo, Moscow, and Prague, and other cities. Three years later, in 2003, the Helmut Newton Foundation was established in Berlin. At the height of his success, the artist and his wife lived in Monte Carlo but wintered in Hollywood at the famed Chateau Marmont Hotel.
Newton died in January 2004 at 83. His final magazine spread was published posthumously in the March 2004 edition of Vogue.
Newton’s first, controversial book, White Women, pays homage to the naked female form, showcasing beautiful models provocatively photographed within scenes of luxury and decadence. Sleepless Nights followed two years later, and explores bondage culture and fashion; and Newton’s classic work, Big Nudes, presents pairs of black-and-white images of powerful models photographed both clothed and then clad only in high heels.
The exhibition catalogue, Helmut Newton: White Women • Sleepless Nights • Big Nudes, will feature entries by co-curators Tucker and Heiting; an essay by designer Karl Lagerfeld; and brief texts by Anna Wintour, editor of American Vogue; Pierre Berge, co-founder of the Yves Saint Laurent Couture House; and Josephine Hart, Irish writer and theater producer.
Helmut Newton: White Women • Sleepless Nights • Big Nudes will be ticketed; details to be announced.
Upcoming Exhibitions at the MFAH
- Tutankhamen: The Golden King and the Great Pharaohs
October 16, 2011-April 15, 2012
- Gifts of the Sultan: The Arts of Giving at the Islamic Courts
October 23, 2011-January 15, 2012
About the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
Established in 1900, the MFAH is the largest cultural institution in the region. The majority of the museum’s presentations take place on its main campus, which is located in the heart of Houston’s Museum District and comprises the Audrey Jones Beck Building, the Caroline Wiess Law Building, the Glassell School of Art and the Lillie and Hugh Roy Cullen Sculpture Garden. The Beck and Law buildings are connected underground by the Wilson Tunnel, which features James Turrell’s iconic installation The Light Inside (1999). Additional resources include a repertory cinema, two significant libraries, public archives and a state-of-the-art conservation and storage facility. Nearby, two remarkable house museums—Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens and Rienzi—present collections of American and European decorative arts. The encyclopedic collections of the MFAH are especially strong in pre-Columbian and African gold; Renaissance and Baroque painting and sculpture; 19th- and 20th-century art; photography; and Latin American art. The MFAH is also home to the International Center for the Arts of the Americas (ICAA), a leading research institute for 20th-century Latin American and Latino art.