Art is not beauty
It shouldn’t be believed, as young children are often told, that art is simply what is beautiful. If that was the case, neither Rembrandt nor Cezanne, nor Schiele for instance (See here the report about Michelangelo and his heirs) , would have any say. Art is in fact this enigmatic means of holding the gaze definitively through a mystery, an anomaly.
The apples by Cézanne
When Cezanne painted his famous apples on a table, the base would often be shown leaning at an angle. The apples ought to have rolled off, but in the painting they remain in place. It’s this suspension of the viewpoint that draws the eye.
In a completely different field, photography, and fashion photography in particular, there is one creator who is the master of this. He is a German based in London who was born in 1964: Juergen Teller. Until 9 January he occupies a key place in the Parisian cultural landscape: the Grand Palais Ephémère. 700 photos, 300 documents, 5 videos: a mega show. In the immense hall that resembles an aircraft hangar devoid of planes, he has arranged planks of wood on which are placed alternating small and large images, framed or pasted, displayed with care or taken from Instagram (See here and here other interviews of Juergen Teller).
His own life
But very quickly we enter into Teller’s own life story. He is known for his shots of a grotesque nature, like the image on the exhibition poster where he depicts himself in bright pink satin shorts, slightly paunchy, wearing socks and lying on a mattress placed on the ground in a courtyard. He is holding a bunch of children’s helium balloons.
Charlotte Rampling and Iggy Pop
There is also the actress Charlotte Rampling, already older, posing nude at the Louvre, and the singer and punk trailblazer Iggy Pop embracing a tree. No element of his crinkled skin is hidden. But we mustn’t stop at the idea that Teller is all about celebrities and provocation. Because at the outset there was a deep rift, explicitly portrayed in the Parisian exhibition.
We firstly see a photo of him as a baby taken by his father. Then a photo of his mother simulating being swallowed by a crocodile. Then a photo of an article about a car accident and lastly a photo in black and white of Juergen Teller naked near the grave of Walter Teller, standing on a football. It is in fact the story of a father, his own, who committed suicide and who the son had hated for a long time before learning, as he confesses, that he would miss him.
Apparently blasphemous photo
“I realized he was a good amateur photographer, strong and honest. I could have made this image he took of me as a baby.” On the apparently blasphemous photo of him undressed in the cemetery: “I had to do it. I wanted to be closer to him and to be pure. As for the ball, football is a reference to my mother. A way to bring them together.”
What follows in a journey through his pictorial peregrinations, sometimes serious, sometimes graceful, sometimes dirty. And we get drawn along with it.
By his own admission, his life has changed a lot since meeting the woman who is now his wife, the Lithuanian Dovile Drizyte. She is everywhere in the Teller iconography at the Grand Palais Ephémère. Even though she stay completely silent, she is present throughout our interview. “We work together. We live together. We have a child together. It’s very beautiful. She helps me enormously. She makes me better. If you look at the second half of the exhibition, which is more joyful and full of humour, you’ll see her influence.”
He then talks about his series “The Myth”, “the most romantic I’ve ever made”. He says: “When a woman wants to become pregnant she lifts her legs in the air. And it actually worked.” Against the backdrop of an Italian hotel with faded gold leaf and old masters paintings, on Lake Como, he has made what looks like a joke: incongruous close-ups of the lifted legs of a woman in luxurious old-fashioned bedrooms.
Snail in extreme close-up
Among the more disturbing photos in the exhibition there is a snail in extreme close-up leaving its trail of slime on a man’s leg next to a piece of fruit. Teller recalls: “it was at the beginning of our relationship. I called her. She was in Paris. She told me she had eaten snails. I imagined Dovile like a kind of peach. This gave me the idea for the series with the snails.”
In the spirit of deliberately mixing beauty and disgust, there is a remarkable portrait of the model Kate Moss posing on the ground in delicate transparent négligé. She is wholly submissive. Beside her in the visual field Juergen has purposefully shown the legs and dirty trainers of a man, which must be him.
All of Paris to myself
Juergen Teller has the gift of challenging us through his images. And like many good artists he also has a gift for recycling everything. His next project will be about Paris. “I have all of Paris to myself at the moment. My posters are all over the metro, on the Morris Columns and I’m taking lots of photos in the exhibition…” he concludes. From the Grand Palais Ephémère his eyes seem to sparkle almost as brightly as the Eiffel Tower flickering behind him.
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