A Review of (Juergen) Teller on (Robert) Mapplethorpe at Alison Jacques Gallery, London
On Thursday 17th November thousands of art lovers visited the prestigious Alison Jacques Gallery for the Private View of Teller on Mapplethorpe. The strong turnout was unsurprising given the large followings that both photographers Robert Mapplethorpe and Juergen Teller have attracted. What's more, the exhibition poignantly coincides with what would have been Mapplethorpe’s 70th birthday. It also ties in nicely with the touring exhibition The Perfect Medium, which opened at the J.Paul Getty Museum and LAMAC, as well as the HBO documentary Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures, released earlier this year.
Whether Mapplethorpe (b. 1946) was photographing flowers, nudes or celebrity portraits, the images that he took from the 1960's until his death in 1989 - from an AIDS related illness - both followed and challenged classical aesthetic standards. And it is through his ability to produce both beautiful, yet often subversive images, that he is now considered to be one of the most important photographers of the 20th century.
Since Mapplethorpe, the German-born photographer Juergen Teller is one of the few artists who has managed to maintain a successful career working between the art world and commercial fashion industry. His milky-toned images have graced the public eye for almost 30 years. And much like Robert Mapplethorpe, whether his photographs have been used for advertising campaigns, exhibitions or to capture fashion icons, Teller’s photographs continue to emphasise his unflinching eye and the fluidity with which he moves between genres.
With the help of the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation - which gallery-owner Jacques has represented for the last 17 years - Teller has selected 48 images, spanning Mapplethorpe’s short, yet extensive career. His careful selection forms an exhibition that successfully highlights and explores the diverse array of subjects captured by Mapplethorpe, whilst also cleverly examining the photographers' commonalities. As Jacques states: “Provocative and subversive, making images which are the antithesis of conventional fashion photography, Juergen Teller was the only choice to curate this special exhibition of Robert’s work. There are obvious parallels between these two artists and I believe Jurgen’s eye will bring a new reading of Robert’s work.”
Mapplethorpe is arguably known best for his sexually explicit and provocative images, often dominated by homoeroticism. But, the show actually offers a refreshing approach to the artist’s diverse portfolio. By including his more obscure polaroids, still-life features and human subjects and pairing them with his more notable works, Teller has created a more romantic view of Mapplethorpe's images. With his curation of the exhibition, Juergen Teller has ultimately summarised Mapplethorpe’s ‘lifelong quest for perfection of form, whatever the subject matter may be’.
Two enlarged images, Untitled (David Croland), 1971 and Marty Gibson, 1982 have been placed on the ground floor, creating a backdrop to the show. Both capture his unapologetically honest style and the natural connection he created between his subject and the camera. Downstairs in the first room we find images of well-known subjects, such as the body-builder Lisa Lyons (Lisa Lyon, 1983) paired with less-known figures, including actress, and writer Cookie Mueller (Cookie Mueller, 1978). Likewise, upstairs in one of the gallery rooms, Teller places two works, that of a male subject engaged in an explicit sexual act (Fist Fuck/Double, 1978) and a devil sculpture (Italian Devil, 1988) - a motif commonly also used by the photographer to accentuate his dark side with Kitten, 1983. By pairing the first two with the far more tranquil image of a kitten resting peacefully in the corner of a sofa, the viewer is offered a unique insight into the multiplicity of Mapplethorpe’s technique. One can see from these couplings the equal amount of poetic intensity that the images of his darker escapades and innocent pleasures offer.
With Mapplethorpe’s Flag, 1987 fetching $487, 500 at a recent Christie’s auction, the show will undoubtedly attract commercial attention. However, what seems most important when observing each work individually - and as a collective - is Juergen Teller’s attention to detail. It has ultimately formed an exhibition, which unravels a unique perspective on Robert Mapplethorpe’s already widely-explored material. Whether one is looking at Michael Reed, 1987, an image so refined through the detailed black and white formalism, that the image could be a sculpture, or the architectural shot Apartment Windows, 1977, we are reminded of Mapplethorpe’s drive to produce images of pure perfection.
Open until 7th January 2017 at Alison Jacques Gallery, London.
Written by Lara Monro, a Contributor to Arteviste.com