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Exhibition: ‘Karlheinz Weinberger: Intimate Stranger’ at Kunstmuseum Basel, Museum for Gegenwartskunst

Exhibition dates: 21st January – 15th April 2012

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Another relatively unknown artist, people whose work I like promoting on this blog. I certainly had never heard of this photographer. A self-taught part-time photographer who worked as a warehouseman most of his life, Weinberger published photographs in the homosexual magazine “Der Kreis,” the same early gay magazine that George Platt Lynes submitted photographs to in the last stages of his life.

While their might seem to be a dichotomy between the desirous photographs of male youth and the city toughs and “rowdies” gay men have always been drawn to rough trade: from Oscar Wilde who was more sexually drawn towards the swarthy young rough trade to contemporary iconography of gay skinheads and punks, still a prevalent culture in London for example. Tattoos, shaved heads, braces, Docs – in Weinberger’s case rockabillies. Notice how in the photograph of the male reclining with candlestick, the form of the candlestick mimics the spidery tattoo on the hand in the photograph above. Notice also how the crouching nude lad looks almost identical to the lad in the photograph below, with his hands thrust into his pockets emphasising the crutch area. And the earlier crutch photograph with the mating of Elvis and Vince over a skull and cross bones which has delicious, subversive homosocial overtones. Toughs or not, there is always the desire for the dangerous and different.

Many thankx to the Kunstmuseum Basel for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Karlheinz Weinberger
Hardau, Zürich
1962
Schwarz-Weiss Fotografie
50.7 x 58 cm
Courtesy The Estate of Karlheinz Weinberger in care of Patrik Schedler, Zürich

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Karlheinz Weinberger
Knabenschiessen, Albisgütli, Zürich
1961
Schwarz-Weiss Fotografie
50.5 x 60.5 cm
Courtesy The Estate of Karlheinz Weinberger in care of Patrik Schedler, Zürich

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Karlheinz Weinberger
Fisherman with Hut, Sicily
ca. 1960
Schwarz-Weiss Fotografie
18.5 x 24 cm
Courtesy The Estate of Karlheinz Weinberger in care of Patrik Schedler, Zürich

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Karlheinz Weinberger
Drei zusammen (three together)
ca. 1965
Schwarz-Weiss Fotografie
50 x 53.5 cm
Courtesy The Estate of Karlheinz Weinberger in care of Patrik Schedler, Zürich

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Karlheinz Weinberger
Untitled, Zürich
ca. 1962
Schwarz-Weiss Fotografie
23.8 x 30.4 cm
Courtesy The Estate of Karlheinz Weinberger in care of Patrik Schedler, Zürich

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The exhibition presents the rarely shown work of the photographer Karlheinz Weinberger (1921–2006). Together with magazines and a selection of vintage apparel, the pictures document a youth culture in Zurich that emerged after World War II whose members sought to subvert contemporary notions of “Swiss correctness.”

Weinberger spent the largest part of his life working as a warehouseman for Siemens-Albis in Zurich. In his free time, he was a self-taught photographer, portraying his lovers and people he met in the street. From the late 1940s on, he frequently published his pictures in “Der Kreis,” a homosexual magazine produced in Zurich from 1943 until 1967 that garnered international attention, pseudonymously signing his work as “Jim.” In 1958, he launched a major project for which he would photograph a group of teenagers, the city’s so-called “Halbstarke,” over an extended period of time. Weinberger’s unfailingly respectful approach allowed him to capture the non-conformism of these “rowdies” with regard to social convention and their play with stereotypes of masculinity and femininity, most readily evident in the way they dressed.

Wearing embroidered denim jackets and oversized belt buckles adorned with the likenesses of idols such as Elvis or James Dean, Weinberger’s adolescent subjects present themselves to his camera in public settings like members of a gang. Photographs such as those taken at the Knabenschiessen, a target shooting competition held at Zurich’s Albisgüetli, show them sprawling on the ground between fairground stalls and compact vans, illustrating the “Halbstarke”‘s refusal to fit in with the traditions surrounding this Zurich folk festival. In addition to the photographs in public settings, Weinberger also took pictures in the improvised studio in his living room. Scantily clad, some of his subjects, mostly young men, strike confident poses showing off their denim shorts and hats, while others cower, their eyes glancing at the camera with a vulnerable expression. Weinberger’s role is that of an Intimate Stranger: he records the attitudes of a generation and its marginal social position in unvarnished pictures and develops the photographs capturing the objects of his fascination in his own photo laboratory.

In an oeuvre that spanned many years, Weinberger portrayed what lay behind the curtains of 1960s bourgeois Switzerland, finding ways to document deviancy without ever putting his protagonists on display.”

Press release from the Kunstmuseum Basel website

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Karlheinz Weinberger
Untitled
ca. 1969
Schwarz-Weiss Fotografie
30.4 x 23.8 cm
Courtesy The Estate of Karlheinz Weinberger in care of Patrik Schedler, Zürich

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Karlheinz Weinberger
Untitled
ca. 1961
Schwarz-Weiss Fotografie
24 x 18 cm
Courtesy The Estate of Karlheinz Weinberger in care of Patrik Schedler, Zürich

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Karlheinz Weinberger
Untitled
ca. 1960
Schwarz-Weiss Fotografie
39 x 29 cm
Courtesy The Estate of Karlheinz Weinberger in care of Patrik Schedler, Zürich

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Karlheinz Weinberger
Zürich am Limmatquai
1962
Schwarz-Weiss Fotografie
30 x 24 cm
Courtesy The Estate of Karlheinz Weinberger in care of Patrik Schedler, Zürich

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Karlheinz Weinberger
Milchbuck, Zürich
ca. 1962
Schwarz-Weiss Fotografie
60.5 x 49 cm
Courtesy The Estate of Karlheinz Weinberger in care of Patrik Schedler, Zürich

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Kunstmuseum Basel
St. Alban-Graben 16
CH-4010 Basel
T: 0041 (0)61 206 62 62

Opening hours:
Tue – Sun 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Closed on Monday

Kunstmuseum Basel website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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