'Shuttered Society': New Berlin Exhibit Showcases GDR Photography

Art photography produced in communist East Germany, from the birth of the closed-off society to its collapse, has become the focus of a comprehensive museum exhibit for the first time. Beginning Friday, 250 works from the 'shuttered society' will be on display at the Berlinische Galerie.

The women are wearing matching skin-tight bodysuits of blue, as well as black belts and bracelets. They're standing on the steps of the now-demolished Stadion der Weltjugend ("Stadium of the World Youth") in Berlin's Mitte district. Holding red balls, they are waiting to perform as part of a Free German Youth (FDJ), the official communist youth organization in the German Democratic Republic (GDR). Some look anxious, some seem bored, some stare blankly.

The 1989 photograph by artist Jens Rötzsch, "Pfingsttreffen der FDJ - Stadion der Weltjugend," shows a conflicted moment of colorful celebration and discomforting propaganda in the former East Germany. Taken shortly before the end of communism in Germany, Rötzsch's photograph is one of 250 works now on display in a new exhibition at the Berlinische Galerie. The museum says that "Shuttered Society: Art Photography in the GDR 1949-1989" is the first exhibit of its kind: a comprehensive look at art photography in the GDR.

The exhibit includes work from 34 photographers, including Roger Melis, Sybille Bergemann, Arno Fischer, Thomas Florschuetz, Helga Paris, Evelyn Richter and Sven Maquardt. Richter captured images of women at work. Maquardt, a local icon and doorman at the famous Berghain nightclub, shot scenes of 1980s subculture.

The exhibit is divided into three parts. The first revolves around social photography and tells the story of daily life in East Germany in images. The second explores the rebirth of modernist photography from the 1920s under communism in East Germany. The third focuses on experimental techniques used by young, disillusioned photographers, especially in the late GDR, who were curious to convey their emotions and show themselves and their bodies in their work.

"Shuttered Society" opens Friday in Berlin and runs until January 28th.

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