Helmut Newton’s Escape Room

Jenny Capitain, Pension Dorian, Berlin, 1977. © The Helmut Newton Estate/Maconochie Photography.

“Into” is a series dedicated to objects, artworks, garments, exhibitions, and all kinds of things that we are into—and there really isn’t a lot more to it than that. Today: Mitchell Nugent becomes a gallery girl, taking a virtual tour through Helmut Newton 100. 

During my exile in quarantine, I’ve affectionately nicknamed my apartment Casa Corona. I like to pretend Casa Corona is located within an alternative borough of New York City—one where caring for your moka pot like a newborn child and rearranging your La Croix cans so that they conjure an ombré effect on your refrigerator shelf is just everyday practice of being a good citizen. In this universe, the Marie Kondo method rules and sheltering in place feels more like a wayward game of Escape Room, where the more I purge my home of unnecessary clutter, the higher the chances of one day drinking at a bar again. 

In my efforts to cleanse Casa Corona, I attempted to rid my library of books that no longer spark joy. Amidst reshuffling my collection around, I spent ten labor-intensive minutes nearly proffering a hernia hoisting Taschen’s ginormous tome on photographer Helmut Newton from the ground. SUMO, which was originally published in 1999, was designed and edited by Newton and his wife, June. Upon its initial release more than three decades ago, the book’s first edition broke records for its colossal size and weight, coming in at nearly 30 inches in height and a sizable 66 pounds. The book also broke records when the publication’s first copy, autographed by a series of notable celebutantes, sold at auction for a whopping $430,000. 

Celia, Miami, 1991. © The Helmut Newton Estate/Maconochie Photography.

For those who don’t have a half million to spend on an original copy or even the strength to carry the slightly-less heavy second edition that I own (not a half million dollars), luckily Newlands House Gallery has brought us a show on the photographer online. In response to COVID-19, the gallerists have taken life’s lemons and made them into a crisp, cold martini with a twist—one you can enjoy from the comfort of your very own hand. INSIDE HELMUT NEWTON 100, which originally opened at the West Sussex gallery space earlier this spring, transitioned to Instagram’s IGTV. To commemorate what would have been the artist’s centenary year, the exhibition compiles a lavish arrangement of his works curated by the gallery’s artistic director, Simon de Pury. In a series of Instagram videos, Newlands House guides viewers through Newton’s many photographs in spurts of one-minute tours. For sixty seconds, the show leaves you breathless, instantly transporting you into the heart-stopping atmosphere that Newton summons within every frame. For sixty seconds, you feel a freedom that makes you crave wind in your hair, a terrace to pose nude on, and an antique rotary phone with which to make a reservation at Pastis for Saturday night. Eventually, those sixty seconds expire and alas, you’re back at Casa Corona. 

The Helmut Newton 100 exhibition at Newlands House Gallery, Petworth will run from March 6th-May 31, 2020.