Linda Simpson reviewed “Peter Berlin | One of a Kind” for Artforum:
Nowadays, many gay guys have pumped-up bodies. But forty or fifty years ago the great majority of men, gay and straight, never set foot in a gym. Berlin stood out as godlike, with his toned, muscular physique; bulging crotch; and smoldering come-hither expressions. In a few of the soft-focus shots here, he radiated a gentle, hippieish aura. Those, however, are the exception: His true role is dominant top, primed for all sorts of deviant bedroom behavior and accessorized with whips, cock rings, harnesses, and other naughty playthings. No vanilla sex here—one depiction was titled “Self-Portrait with Riot Stick” (all works ca. 1970s). The titular object, gripped tightly in Berlin’s right hand, seems an apropos stand-in for the club between his legs. His airbrushed additions—sometimes slick, others times a bit more ersatz—include exotic jungle plants; strobe lights; and glowing blue, peach, and purple backgrounds. A number of the artist’s photographs could pass for lascivious and surreal album covers from the glory days of disco. In “Self-Portrait on a Pedestal,” the artist is awash in strobe lights as he flexes in assless chaps on what appears to be a Plexiglas go-go box. One can practically hear Donna Summer moaning and groaning in the distance.
Most importantly, Berlin’s work is a fascinating mix of narcissism and liberation. His sole object of desire is himself, and in several retouched portraits he stands side by side with himself; the doppelgängers check out one another’s rock-hard abs and erections. Yet this lusty self-obsession isn’t cringey or distasteful, but rather powerfully defiant and celebratory. Beyond the confines of San Francisco, New York, and other urban safe spaces, access to gay eroticism was nearly nonexistent at the time. Berlin’s mail-order biz was a sexual lifeline to closeted men world-wide. His painted images are glorified portrayals of a proud homosexual as a mighty hyper sexualized warrior and macho savior, leading the way with his throbbing penis—a vision of gay liberation at its finest.
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Browse the exhibition “Peter Berlin | One of a Kind” at ClampArt
Browse all of Peter Berlin’s work at ClampArt