Thursday, 22 December 2016

Mapplethorpe through the eye of Teller.

As soon as you enter the Alison Jacques Gallery on Berners Street you're presented with a very large photograph of a naked man (model Marty Gibson) paddling in the shallows. It would be fair to say he's quite 'excited'. It's far from the most explicit thing in this exhibition to mark what would have been Robert Mapplethorpe's 70th birthday. An exhibition that's been curated by UK based, German photographer Juergen Teller.

Teller, is along with Mapplethorpe, one of a select band of artists who've been able to operate within the worlds of both art and commercial fashion photography so it's apparent why he's an admirer. Alison Jacques themselves have said that it's Teller's 'provocative and subversive' style that made him the right man for the exhibition and that his eye would be a new reading to Mapplethorpe's work.

He's had a good go but I'm not quite sure he's pulled it off (if you'll pardon the expression). Mapplethorpe's work is so iconic, and in places, frank that it's hard (there I go again) to change our inbuilt preconceptions so easily. I guess he does present a side of Mapplethorpe I was less aware of. That of the still life. 1979's Bread is beautifully shot and is unlikely to date in the same way as the styles sported by 1983's Lisa Lyons, above.

1978's The Sluggard, above, is clearly a more classicist piece than we're accustomed to. 1973's Self Portrait demonstrates, playfully, the cheekiness of the then mid-20s snapper.

Again, as with the recent Laura Owens show at Sadie Coles HQ it's the juxtaposition of differing works that really brings out the talent. Mapplethorpe's 1982 gelatin print of actress Madeline Stowe looks innocent on its own but being framed next to 1985's Coconuts gives it a bit of slapstick, bawdy seaside humour that seems, to me at least, more the work of Teller than Mapplethorpe. Teller's intention was to show the 'essential mission' of Mapplethorpe's work. His life long quest for 'perfection of form' whatever the subject matter should be. The human body, cutlery, or a muffin.

Carol Overby (1979), Clothespinned Mouth (1978), and the aforementioned Muffin (1981) sit in a side room. They tell less of a story but still show the range of Mapplethorpe's work. In the main room, opposite Marty Gibson's schlong, stand Pods (1985), Eva Amurri (1988), and Frogs (1984). It'd be a understatement to say they're overshadowed by Gibson but, whatever you think of that, you may want to prepare yourself for possibly the most eye-watering photo of the exhibit. Those of a faint hearted nature may want to scroll over Fist Fuck/Double from 1978.

It certainly opens up a lot of questions about art and pornography. I didn't really want to look at it long enough to answer them so I soon moved on to 1988's Italian Devil. It was like having a cool glass of water the morning after a heavy night on the booze.

1983s Kitten, above, is intriguing and certainly doesn't appear to include any felines. Amongst all the willies and bums there are a few more, actually quite delightful, still lifes and even as close as you'll get to a landscape in this show. Chest ('83), Corn ('85), and Apartment Windows ('77) are all excellent photographs. The smutty stuff is too but how you feel about that may depend on various factors quite irrelevant to Mapplethorpe's undoubted skill with the camera.

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