He's been called the Greta Garbo of gay porn. And while Peter Berlin spent a lot of his time on film alone, he also collaborated with art world heavyweights such as Tom of Finland, Andy Warhol and Robert Mapplethorpe. Although he retired from public life many years ago, the iconic screen stud is now the subject of a new solo exhibition at Magnet (4122 18th Street) in San Francisco. The show, titled "Photographer/Porn Star/Gay Icon," runs from October 1-31 and focuses on the artist's "selfies" from another era.
For those who might not be familiar, Peter Berlin was a model, photographer, painter, designer and some say the first gay porn star. He was renowned in the 1970s for his provocative photos of himself, often dressed in skintight pants that emphasized his huge package. He directed only two films, Nights in Black Leather (1973) and That Boy (1974), but they created an international stir that still echoes through the gay art world. Born in Poland in 1942, Berlin grew up in Germany and started cruising the parks of Berlin, Paris and Rome, where he created the character that would make him famous. Once he moved to San Francisco in the early 1970s, Berlin started working the gay scene and became famous as a street personality, exhibitionist and performer.
Adding to his legend, Berlin was the subject of the excellent 2005 documentary That Man: Peter Berlin. Directed by Jim Tushinski, the film played the festival circuit and showcased the man and the myth behind his trademark Prince Valiant haircut and bulging crotch. An aging Berlin and numerous friends and fans share stories and talk about the persona that Berlin carefully crafted over the years, and how it influenced a generation of gay artists. Some say that he was also the first porn star to fetishize his own image via his erotic self-portraiture, which perfectly ties in to the selfie-obsessed culture we live in today.
SF area readers, take note: There will be an opening-night party on Friday, October 3, from 8 to 10 pm at Magnet. There will also be a rare live interview with Berlin himself on Saturday, October 18, from 7 to 9 pm. For more information, click here.