Juergen Teller, “Daddy You’re So Cute”
Lehmann Maupin, through Oct 18 (see Chelsea)
By Martha Schwendener
The fine line between art and fash-ion photography isn’t so fine with Juergen Teller. Teller is a success-ful London-based fashion photogra-pher who’s worked with all the big names. But you wouldn’t mistake the photos in his current show for some-thing in Vogue or W. As Teller ex-plains in a gallery statement, what spawned these works was the revela-tion that he needed a change, “to pho-tograph someone who doesn’t care at all how they look.” In other words, he needed subjects who were willing to look ugly.
He found his quarry in a handful of famous folks who are accustomed to looking better in photographs than they do here: Kate Moss, Stephanie Seymour, Kristen McMenamy, Saman-tha Morton, O.J. Simpson. But the main subject is the photographer himself, who appears naked in a variety of buffoonish postures, compromising poses and unglamorous settings.
Ugliness, then, seems to be what distinguishes art from fashion for Teller. Art is expression and freedom; fashion is beauty and tyranny. This would make for a pretty dull thesis if Teller weren’t willing to go the extra mile—photographing himself naked, beer can in hand, at his father’s grave; capturing Kate Moss (who’s forging another career as an artist’s muse for other artists, too) pregnant and with-out makeup; and spelunking into the hidden world of pornographic-looking stalagmites.
Falling somewhere between Ryan McGinley and Wolfgang Tilmans— between hip domesticity and edgy fashion grotesquery—Teller has two main things going for him: a sense of humor and great social connections. Playfully shot and arranged, these works might not have worked with-out the added celebrity juice. On the other hand, given Teller’s generous humor and self-deprecation, they just might have.