Legendary Status: Juergen Teller on Robert Mapplethorpe
Photo: © 2016 Alison Jacques Gallery
American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe would have celebrated his seventieth birthday this year. It’s impossible to fathom the loss that his premature death had cost not only the genre of photography but the entire world of art. Like the great iconoclasts of yore, Mapplethorpe deftly employed the classical traditions of the medium and applied it to subjects that caused even the most sophisticated among us to bat an eye. His brilliance with lighting and composition set the stage for contemplation of more provocative ideas, subverting the way in which beauty dazzled the mind to make us reconsider our beliefs and prejudices.
Like Irving Penn and Richard Avedon, Mapplethorpe is a photographer’s photographer, pushing the formal elements to the furthest reaches of beyond. In doing so, he was able to transcend the boundaries between commercial and fine art. In the same vein, Juergen Teller has built a body of work and a reputation for operating in both worlds without corrupting either side of the equation. There exists a natural affinity between both photographers: the drive to excel.
Alison Jacques Gallery, London, has invited Teller to curate a selection of Mapplethorpe’s work, giving us profound insight into the minds of both artists. Teller on Mapplethorpe, currently on view through January 7, 2017, features a selection of 48 works from the archive that have rarely been seen. The photographs span the breadth of Mapplethorpe’s prolific career, dating back to Polaroids taken in the early 1970s and does not shy away from the artist’s more infamous work.
Teller’s selections give us a look at Mapplethorpe’s body of work from a fresh perspective, finding humor, beauty, and grace in the unusual as well as the commonplace. The exhibition includes photographs of key figures in Mapplethorpe’s life including Patti Smith, David Croland, and Sam Wagstaff, as well as muse Lisa Lyon. There are also portraits of the photojournalist Gisele Freund, who photographed Frida Kahlo, and Hans Gert, whose portrait happens to be the first print that Tom Baril worked on for Mapplethorpe from his Bond Street Darkroom (Baril went on to become be Mapplethorpe’s exclusive printer for over 15 years).
Interspersed throughout the exhibition are nudes and still lifes, as well as a selection of animal photographs including a plate of frogs and a kitten snuggled into an oversized sofa. Teller also received the permission of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, Teller has enlarged two images at over four meters in scale, which are pasted directly onto the gallery’s walls setting the tone for the entire show.
Taken as a whole, Teller on Mapplethorpe is the natural culmination of two exacting minds, which dialogue with each other across space and time. Alison Jacques, who has represented Robert Mapplethorpe in the UK since 1999, recognized Juergen Teller as the perfect curator for the work, observing his ability to bring a new reading to Mapplethorpe’s photography. How right she was and how fortunate we are to partake in this silent conversation between photography legends.
Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.