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Juergen Teller - Louis XV

Page 1 | 2 | Biography

HERR T. RUNS AMOK : Hilton Als on Juergen Teller
HERR T. RUNS AMOK : Hilton Als on Juergen Teller
Published text in Artforum International, New York, January 2005

As the Historian Simon Schama tells us in his informative and enriching Landscape and Memory (1995), Cornelius Tacitus completes his monumental study Germania; or, On the Origin and Situation of the Germans, around the year 98. For approximately two hundred years before that, Roman legions had been spending a great deal of time, money, and manpower attempting to suppress those scape “children of nature” who inhabited a northern landscape antithetical to the sophisticated Romans’ manicured own.

That German landscape, which Tacitus described as “for the most part bristling forests and foul bogs”, was commonly believed to have shaped its fierce, warmongering people. The Germans, according to Tacitus, did “no business, private or public, without arms in their hands.” But what they did not feel the need to combat was nature, the only power they recognized as being greater than their own.

Thousands of years later, the cover image of Ich bin vierzig (I Am Forty), shows the photographer, Juergen Teller, we see the side of the artist’s face smashed flat in a platter of food. One assumes he has passed out from too much beer or Jägermeister; containers of those two “typically” German drinks are on the table, above his head. The photographer’s stuffed, out-of-it face is countenanced by that of a partially decimated roast pig. And creating a grid underneath all of this is a red-and-white tablecloth. Of course, given the book’s cover (it was published in conjunction with an earlier Teller exhibition at the Kunsthalle Wien), one cannot help asking: How German is any of this?

Images taken from : Louis XV series of 28 works, 2004. © 2004 Contemporary Fine Arts Berlin GmbH

The Answer is: Quite. What Teller manages to achieve here are the de facto “cheap” versions of stereotypically German emotions that have been laid out not only in master paintings by Casper David Friedrich and the like but in the violence of the everyday as expressed in the films of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Barbet Schröder, and Volker Schlöndorff. In the images these painters and filmmakers have created there’s a certain emphasis on the question of the fatherland and the individual’s interest in (and terror of not) conforming to patriarchal rules. In his self-portraits, Teller is acting out against all of this through a performative paganism. Getting drunk at his father’s grave, carrying a tray laden with German food, wearing a bomber jacket, he seems to be trying to expose the myth of maleness by exposing his white German ass to the camera. That some of his subjects – O.J. Simpson, Kate Moss, Yves Saint Laurant – are not German does not mean they are immune to being “Germanized” by Teller’s lens. As it happens, Teller not only comes to some sort of reckoning with his nationality in this book but also confronts how that nation looks at difference.

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Juergen Teller - Louis XV
@ Contemporary Fine Arts Berlin
Sophienstrasse 21
10178 Berlin-Mitte

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