Juergen Teller: Man with Banana
Through August 21, 2011
I was unfamiliar with the name Juergen Teller before I visited his exhibit at the Dallas Contemporary recently. Once I saw his print work I recognized the Marc Jacobs ad campaigns he’s directed since the late ‘90s – but it doesn’t matter if you are knowledgeable in fashion design or not, you will enjoy this exhibit.
If you do know the fashion world and its players – the designers and models – the show is an insider’s look into their lives. Teller’s camera is often brutal at showing life as it really is. There are no Photoshopped “beautiful people” pictures here. I’d say his photos are honest.
If you’re not so in-the-know, the show reads as an autobiography of the photographer and is interesting and candid on that level.
Here’s what I found when I visited the show:
Every time I’ve gone to the Contemporary, I walk into a space that has been altered substantially since the last time I was there. I like this. For me, it adds to my visit – the unexpected nature of contemporary art and the anticipation of seeing an artist with whom I’m unfamiliar.
The Juergen Teller show “Man with Banana” begins with a video interview of the artist playing in a loop on three large crystal-clear LG screens mounted on the wall. Interview questions are displayed, black on white, followed by a medium shot of Teller on a white background answering them. Questions like “What is your favorite curse word?” (“Fuck.”) are reminiscent of the Proust Questionnaire James Lipton uses on “Inside the Actor’s Studio.” Teller answers them with aplomb. It’s such a great way to be introduced to the artist before looking at his work – why don’t more galleries do this with living artists?
The video reveals an unpretentious youthful (Teller was born in 1964) photographer who speaks English with a slight German accent and talks lovingly about his children and a recent experience in a Barcelona restaurant that served him a 50-course meal. He’s likeable. I want to see his pictures.
Round the corner and you’ll see Teller has been given the huge south gallery space for his exhibit. The gallery spaces in the Contemporary are so luxurious – the only thing I wished for was a bench or two so I could sit and contemplate.
The first 20 or so pictures are from his column in Germany’s Zeit magazine in which he publishes a feature consisting of a photograph and a hundred or so word caption. These are delicious, gossipy nuggets of stories about his family (his teenage daughter, a baby boy, his mother, a father who committed suicide) or about famous people who acted badly (chef Gordon Ramsay), scared him (O.J. Simpson), or made him pity them (a very sick Yves Saint Laurent with foundation smeared on his face.)
My favorite photograph from this group is a goofy picture of his baby son Ed, his happy face rising up from the bubbles in the bathtub. The caption describes how his children often help him escape from the troubles of life. Teller is an insightful observer of life and succinct writer as well.
Turn around and you find another wall of photographs including five large gorgeous color pictures of an androgynous male fashion model named Andrej. These are stunning both for their size and for the colorful images of a beautiful boy model. Here is Andrej in a blue frock eating a banana – thus the title of the show.
To the left of Andrej is a smaller scaled triptych of a red-haired nude. From a distance, the three images look like they depict a Renoir muse with lovely skin and lush flowing hair. When a closer look reveals a nude seventy-year old British fashion designer called Vivienne Westwood, I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed. A little deftly applied Photoshop would actually improve these photos.
Finally, at the back of the gallery, three long viewing tables are full of examples of print work and books by the Teller. This novel way of displaying the work of a working commercial photographer adds immensely to the show. This part of the show is where I start to recognize Marc Jacobs ads by seeing them in their context. Also displayed is a book of the campaigns from the last eleven years, and, in fact, a large series of photography books authored and illustrated by Teller. (A quick look at Amazon indicates he’s contributed to or written over 20!)
In my mind, a gallery show is successful if the exhibit causes the viewer to want to learn more about the artist or see more of the artist’s work. This exhibit is successful in that way.
There are two more shows currently running at the Dallas Contemporary. Another photography show, EZRA PETRONIO: Bold & Beautiful, runs through August 21, 2011. The other show, LE PAVILLON NEUFLIZE OBC: The Lost Art of Travelers, is the first “real world” exhibition from 11 international current participants from Le Pavilion – a post-graduate arts residency at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris. It runs through June 26, 2011.