Within & Beyond The Wall, Berlin 1958-2003 York Quay Gallery (235 Queens Quay West), to July 4. 416-973-4000. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
A show of nine Berlin photographers, Within And Beyond The Wall fills the huge gap in our knowledge of what life was like on both sides of the Berlin Wall. What grabs you first in these 93-plus shots is their rigorous craftsmanship. Nearly every photo has been carefully composed and cropped. The content, however, differs widely and covers a lot of ground, from unsentimental architectural studies verging on abstraction to intensely personal portraits. Nearly all of them are compelling.
Ultimately, this a show about the strain that large, depersonalizing systems put on individuals, regardless of who they might be.
In the images of buildings and interiors by Ulrich Wüst, humans seem to be reflected or blurred almost incidentally within their intensely bleak surroundings. Christian von Steffelin's handsome colour prints of GDR headquarters in ruins are done with a pompous precision that proves ironic.
There are moments of narrative history as well, such as Wolfgang Ritters's record of the Lenne triangle, a small anarchist oasis of rubble and vegetation that served as a gathering spot before it was bought and redeveloped. Equally notable are the carefully observed city shots by Hansgert Lambers highlighting the absurd juxtapositions between the totalitarian and the personal.
In contrast to these largely urban and deceptively neutral images is the work of Barbara Metsellaar-Berthold. Her series, German Dances, was snapped in the middle of an East German apartment bash featuring 30-something artists and intellectuals getting sloppy drunk and topless in an orgy of 70s punk rock excess. Her images convey a rawness and desperation that anticipate Nan Goldin's best work.
Metsellaar-Berthold's documentary series could carry the show on its own.