If photographer Cindy Sherman lived in post-war Berlin, would her self-portraits look much different from today? It’s fun and strange to consider. The Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art (at University of Florida, Gainesville) allows such daydreaming with the exhibition Surreal, Sexy, Sinister — the first solo exhibition of Berlin photographer Marta Astfalck-Vietz (1901-1993) outside Germany. Driven early toward sexy, sometimes nude self-portraits, Astfalck-Vietz wasn’t afraid to respond to the social, sexual and political transformations of the German metropolis post-WWI. (These were the between-wars years that also provided backdrop for Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin Stories and Cabaret. Astfalck-Vietz might well have known the famous Sally Bowles, had the latter not been fictional.) But in 1936, when the Nazi party began clamping down on experimental art, she turned to botanical painting.
As reflected in her photographs, Astfalck-Vietz was overcome by modern life and the culture surrounding her. In “Suicide in Spirit,” her dismembered pickled head floats in a glass jar. She stuck it out though, making it to 90 and then–perhaps inevitably–ending up in Florida.