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People: Talking to Matthias Harder

Dr. Matthias Harder is the director and curator of the Helmut Newton Foundation in Berlin. He is born in Kiel in 1965 and studied art history, classical archaeology and philosophy in Kiel and Berlin. He is a member of the German Society for Photography and a board member of the European Month of Photography. Since 2004 he has worked as senior curator and director of the Helmut Newton Foundation in Berlin. As a freelance curator, he has organized numerous exhibitions of contemporary art and photography around the world since 1995. Numerous photographers have been presented in exhibitions thanks to his commitment. He publishes regularly in international art journals. Matthias Harder has been teaching photography and photo history at the Free University of Berlin since 2002.

Matthias Harder, Photo by David von Becker


Matthias Harder, in your early years, even before your doctorate, you were intensively involved with the photographers Walter Hege and Herbert List, among others. One of your focal points here was Greece; one of your book publications was on the subject of "Walter Hege and Herbert List. Greek temple architecture in photographic staging". Both photographers have influenced you, what significance do Hege and List have for you today?

I worked very intensively with these two German photographers, I dedicated my doctoral thesis to their photographs from Greece; in this respect, they were very important to me at the time. In a way, they were at the beginning of my own career as a curator and still have an impact today. Every time I come across her images somewhere, in books or online platforms, in exhibitions, at auctions or art fairs, I am delighted. A few years ago, I gave a lecture on Hege at a museum in Naumburg and recently I wrote a new text on List's Italian pictures for an exhibition catalogue of the Karsten Greve Gallery. Twenty years ago, together with Max Scheler, I organised a Herbert List retrospective at the Munich Stadtmuseum, which then toured halfway around the world, and published a major monograph with Schirmer/Mosel. I continue to hold his photographic work in particular in high esteem, and I think there will be an opportunity in the future to show him here at the Helmut Newton Foundation as part of a group exhibition.

Matthias Harder, Photo by Steven Kohlstock


How did the Helmut Newton Foundation come into being, what are its aims?

At the beginning there was the idea of founding the "German Centre for Photography", actually in this spelling. This was to happen in Berlin in 1999, a team of photo historians was sent through the collections of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin and the Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz, I was also part of this small group. We were not always warmly received, but we certainly found what we were looking for in some of the collections. With these pictures tracked down in the archives and the partial archives of Umbo and Helmut Newton, a museum was to be founded that would be dedicated solely to the medium of photography; but this only came about a few years later, at a different location and in a modified form. Helmut Newton, after his major retrospective at the Neue Nationalgalerie in 2000, could only be persuaded in 2003 to transfer his archive to Berlin, his home city. Other cities were also interested. Newton set up his own foundation, concluded a cooperation agreement with the Prussian Cultural Heritage, commissioned the Berlin architects Paul and Petra Kahlfeldt to convert the former Landwehr casino into a functional museum, and a curator. That's how I came into the picture. Regrettably, Newton died only a few weeks later; he was unable to see the completion of his museum foundation, and I was no longer able to work with him. His widow June became Foundation President and we subsequently organised the exhibitions together. The foundation's goals are to preserve, exhibit and communicate the photographic work of Helmut and June Newton. We have been doing this since 2004 in Berlin and internationally beyond the city, and I can say: quite successfully.

Lobby view at the Helmut Newton Foundation Berlin,
Photo by Stefan Müller, courtesy Helmut Newton Foundation


How did it come about that you took over the direction of the Helmut Newton Foundation?

I was personally hired by Helmut Newton as the Foundation's curator in December 2003, and there were two directors in the following years, but only for a short period each time. And so in 2019, in addition to being a curator, I also took on the director's job, which entails more representative tasks. I now not only take care of Newton's work and its presentation in curatorial terms alone, but also contracts, sponsorship, the complete loan system and many strategic decisions around the foundation.

Photo © Helmut Newton Foundation, 
courtesy Helmut Newton Foundation


What are you currently working on, what projects are you planning?

The focus of my work at the moment is the large Newton retrospective, which will open in Berlin on 31 October 2021 on the occasion of his 101st birthday and will then travel to other places, and I'm currently finishing a fairly extensive new book with Taschen publishing. In addition, I am finalising several exhibitions of Newton and participating in exhibitions in Düsseldorf, Paris, Barcelona and soon in St. Petersburg and Monte Carlo. I always travel to such exhibitions, take care of the condition reports, the hanging, write the accompanying texts and speak at the press conference and opening. In the planning stage for our Berlin location is the group exhibition "Hollywood" with Newton's photographs from Los Angeles and the works of several colleagues, which will be shown in Berlin from summer 2022. I am also very much looking forward to that.

June’s Room, Photo by Gerhard Kassner,
courtesy Helmut Newton Foundation


June Newton, Australian photographer, known under the pseudonym Alice Springs, was married to Helmut Newton until his death. She passed away in April 2021. What impact does this have on your work at the Helmut Newton Foundation.

June died in April at the age of 97 and is now buried next to Helmut in Berlin. In the last years of her life, she was unfortunately no longer in full physical health - and could neither travel to Berlin nor give us curatorial impulses. After her death, nothing fundamental will change for the time being. In her honor, we have set up a corner on the ground floor of the museum within the exhibition "Helmut Newton's Private Property" with some of her portraits, the entries in the book of condolence and the obituaries in the international press, and we will show a best-of of her photographs in "June's Room" from autumn, parallel to the large survey exhibition of Helmut Newton. And in two years' time, in June 2023, on her 100th birthday, I am planning a major Alice Springs retrospective in our house with several connecting venues. Thus, we are continuing to work as planned; the framework conditions were set many years ago with the establishment of the Foundation. And I have many more interesting exhibitions in the pipeline, I can promise you that much.

Matthias Harder, thank you very much for the Interview.


Helmut Newton Foundation 


through May 22, 2022
Helmut Newton Foundation
Jebensstrasse 70
10719 Berlin


Click on an image to open the gallery 

Dr. Matthias Harder

Director / Curator, Helmut Newton Foundation, Berlin

Matthias Harder has been the curator of the Helmut Newton Foundation in Berlin since 2004 and also the Foundation’s director since 2019. The Newton exhibitions Us and Them; Sex and Landscapes; Helmut Newton’s Private Property; A Gun for HireYellow Press; Playboy Projections; Men, War and Peace; WANTED; Fired; Sumo; Polaroids; White Women / Sleepless Nights / Big Nudes; World without Men /Archives de Nuit; Paris Berlin; Unseen; Pages from the Glossies, and Permanent Loan Collection as well as Alice Springs; Veruschka’s Self-Portraits; Pigozzi and the Paparazzi; Three Boys from Pasadena; Greg Gorman; Frank Horvat; Guy BourdinSaul Leiter; David Lynch; Inez & Vinoodh; Vanessa Beecroft; Cindy Sherman, and Mario Testino have been presented over the course of his engagement.

He also has been teaching photography and photo history at the Free University of Berlin since 2002. Prior to his current position at the Helmut Newton Foundation, he was the director of the Kunstverein (non-for-profit art organization) in Glueckstadt, near Hamburg, for two years and a guest curator at the Photomuseum Munich for three years, where he curated the retrospective shows of German photographers Herbert List and Stefan Moses, among other projects.

As a freelance curator, he has organized numerous exhibitions of contemporary art and photography around the world since 1995, among others in museums and other institutions in New York, Montreal, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Tel Aviv, Kiev, Triest, Omaha, Paris, Helsinki, Stockholm, Budapest, Venice, Genova, and Rome. He also has served as an advisor and a jury member for numerous competitions. Dr Harder is a member of the German Society of Photography and a board member of the Berlin Photography Festival and the European Month of Photography in Berlin. He publishes regularly in respected international magazines, such as Art in America, Eikon, Aperture, Foam, and Photonews. He has written numerous articles for books and exhibition catalogues as well as he has edited or co-edited monographic books on Herbert List, Stefan Moses, Nelly, Max Scheler, Willy Ronis, Dirk Reinartz, Luzia Simons, Moritz Partenheimer, Vera Mercer, Stephan Erfurt, and Viktoria Binschtok in collaboration with publishers like Distanz, Taschen, Hatje Cantz, Schirmer/Mosel, Prestel, Dumont, Kehrer, Kerber, Reimer, Hirmer, Sieveking, Monacelli, and Seuil.

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