It’s always going to be hard to sum up the 20 year award-winning career of a photographer who’s enjoyed by tumblr as much as by Alisdair Sooke in The Telegraph and the high fashion brands of Marc Jacobs, Helmut Lang, Yves Saint Laurent, and Vivienne Westwood. But the ICA has managed just that by opening up their entire gallery space for Juergen Teller: Woo!. The show was recommended to me by a coursemate who was lucky enough to interview Teller a few days previously. Despite a horrible cold I made it along to the ICA and I can say it was absolutely worth it.
The exhibition is sharply divided along the lines of commercial and personal work. In an interview with the Guardian Teller states that “There’s very much a divide”, he seems to prefer the freedom of subject matter that personal projects allow, while recognising commercial work is important - it funds his personal projects, and allows him to meet new people.
This divide in his work seems to be reflected in the hang of exhibition. The grand downstairs and upstairs galleries of the ICA are dedicated to Teller’s personal projects. Here the photographs are all framed, hung sparsely, and some of the prints are vast, easily 3 metres tall. Its the downstairs gallery that houses the infamous 2009 nude triptych of Vivenne Westwood. Meanwhile the commercial work has been relegated to the small Fox reading room. Here the aesthetic is closer to his recognisable eclecticism, the walls plastered floor to ceiling with tear sheets.
Juergen Teller’s wide appeal and popularity comes from his distinctive anti-aesthetic: brightly-lit highly-saturated analogue photographs. But also from his ironic subjects; he photographs the absurd and mundane, as well as the sublime, sexual, and abject. Of course, his commercial projects are generally toned down, and I think that’s why my two favourite photographs of the show were both personal works.
One from the Louis XV series. A double portrait of his long-time collaborator and subject Charlotte Rampling playing a grand piano while Teller himself sits ontop of it naked and baring his anus.
The second, a snapshot of a dead octopus upturned on a bed, its tentacles and mouth pointing towards the camera, thoughtfully entitled Octopussy.
It’s been nearly a decade since Juergen Teller’s work has last been exhibited in a London gallery, so this show should be on the to-do list of anyone interested in contemporary photography.
Juergen Teller: Woo! is at the ICA, London until the 17th of March, 2013