The press release of Juergen Teller’s current show at Lehmann Maupin states that the artist “removes the artifice between photographer and subject, leaving only the purity of each image, and unlike the sculptures in the museum’s [Musee du Louvre de Paris] collection, his photographs do not present a standard of beauty but are more akin to a tribute to women and the human form.” For those who haven’t seen the show, this “tribute to women”, which is not supposed to be presenting “a standard of beauty”, is achieved by having a model, Raquel Zimmermann, and an actress, Charlotte Rampling, walk around naked inside the Louvre (after hours) so that the photographer can take photographs of the women standing next to statues and paintings. Where to begin?
Of course, a model does represent the very beauty ideals that the photography supposedly ignores: what else are models but contemporary versions of Greek statues, used to showcase our beauty ideals? It’s almost too obvious to point that out - as is the general idea of having naked women parade around naked in some public space. No, really, Spencer Tunick et al., we’ve seen it all, we get it, thank you! And there we have the first big problem of the show: It’s not just a superficial concept, it also doesn’t hold any water.
Mind you, a bad concept is not necessarily to be held against a show.
But unfortunately, it gets worse: The photography looks sloppily done, both in its execution and in its presentation. I do understand that there is a whole (if we want to call it that) school of photography done in this style; and it’s OK with me if it’s used for “fashion” photography, because then I can just not buy those magazines and ignore it.
However, it gets problematic when the photography shot for some magazine is lifted out of that magazine and put on a gallery wall, because more often than not, it doesn’t work. As is the case here. A couple of beautiful naked women in a museum - that’s the perfect stuff for a “magazine pour l’homme contemporain” (the magazine’s by-line), to be ogled by those “hommes contemporains” for a couple of minutes while flipping through the pages. But seriously, on its own, on gallery walls, it just looks bad.
So if Simen Johan’s show was the best show I saw in Chelsea this one was by far the worst.