Juergen Teller: a misunderstood jokester?
It is, indeed, a challenge to face the works of the German-born photographer Juergen Teller. His often brutally honest and oddly natural photographs seem to stand in direct opposition of what would be expected from a photographer. All the aesthetic impact is stripped, and the viewer is often left surprised at the pure directness of his images.
They are very simplified, but hold intriguing stories when viewed closely. However, it is questionable if and how this transmission of information is successful. They hold personal stories and obsessions which are somewhere between fascinating and ridiculous — almost neo-dadaistic, may I dare to say?
His entire exposition, titled “Enjoy Your Life!” is dominated by plates — in particular photographs printed on plates. One could only wonder where this peculiar fetish originates from — but upon reading closer (or upon knowing German language better than me), one will simply discover that the artist’s surname — Teller — translates from German as “Plate”. This seems to utterly fascinate him: “Come see my new studio. There will be a porn actor there, and models, and a live donkey. And plates. Did you know that Teller in German is “plate”?” he once said to Adrian Searle, the chief art critic at The Guardian.
And the DONKEY — what’s with the donkeys? Read Teller’s story about a “Ride On A Donkey” and you will soon discover a terrifying coincidence in which he was nearly raped by an eager man while riding a donkey near the Turkish-Syrian border — consequently sending him in to a mental turbulence. Hence the donkey re-occurrence! Voilá!
There were many other personal stories and memories reflected in this single exhibition, however hidden in complex visual transcripts. I wasn’t able to uncover many. If the work is inclined to be therapeutic, then it is understandable. However, without any perceivable form of relating these backgrounds to the viewer, the works remain unrevealed and quite possibly misunderstood. And even after filling these gaps, I remain puzzled by the absence of a stronger mental focal point.
There is, however, one set of photographs that showcases Teller’s brilliant sense. “Kanye, Juergen & Kim” is a grotesque magazine photo-shoot of the eccentric american rapper Kanye West and his wife — reality TV celebrity and sex idol Kim Kardashian. The location was originally set at the 16th century Chateau D’Ambreville — and don’t be mistaken, it remained — however Teller (in his classic rebellious manner) averted from from the original setting and instead concentrated on the neighbouring fields and piles of dirt and debris. Just like stripping the settings of all decorative, shiny and so-called “aesthetic features”, he also stripped his models from all the “beauty features”, “celebrity aspects” and other strongly guarded attributes of a star-studded image. Kardashian is photographed rolling around the dirt piles and posing next to a farm tractor — almost ridiculously and nearly self-degradingly. You can barely see her face and her buttocks are more of the center of attention. Kardashian is reduced to a simple unexceptional human being — stripped of all the “image”. Her fame and celebrity status mean absolutely nothing in these photos. Kanye West also fails to see Teller’s game — posing egocentrically for the lens.
A very similar implication can be drawn from the Vivienne Westwood nudes — a greatly respected fashion designer entirely stripped of all attributed social values and whatnot. Figuratively and literally — with her vagina staring directly through the lens, in to Jurgen Teller’s eye. Westwood (in her classic approach) is however more than aware of the concept.
This is where Teller’s odd simplification creates something quite amusing and weirdly clever. His work is oddly simple on the outside, but can sometimes reach through and bring forward these insightful and playful moments. But only to a certain extent.
In his entirety, Juergen Teller remains unrevealed to me — and quite possibly to many others facing his prints.
“Juergen Teller: Enjoy Your Life!” will run at the Rudolfinum Gallery in Prague until the 19th of March, 2017.
Originally published at blog.olivermcgillick.com on February 15, 2017.