JTF (just the facts): A total of 9 large scale color photographs, framed in white and unmatted, and hung against white walls in the main gallery space. All of the works are inkjet prints on Alu-dibond, made in 2016. Physical sizes range from roughly 59×49 to 59×59, and the prints are available in editions of 3+1AP. The show also includes 1 slide projection (shown in a darkened room in the center of the gallery space), from 2010. It consists of 2 sets of 40 slides, and is available in an edition of 3. (Installation shots below.)
Comments/Context: Peter Piller’s work has consistently investigated the careful removal and rearrangement of photographic context. Appropriating visuals from various sources and archives for nearly two decades now, he has stripped those images of their original relationships, taking out text and other identifiers, leaving the photographs either to be judged on their own or to be juxtaposed in new ways to highlight unexpected or newly discovered connections. In his last gallery show (in 2013, reviewed here), he isolated paired images from an East German military magazine, making a subtle mockery of the matching masculine desires for winsome pinups and tough-guy weaponry.
His newest show continues his exploration of the commercial depictions of women, this time in imagery found on the backs of German semi-trailer trucks, photographed by the artist himself at gas stations and rest stops on recent trips back and forth between Hamburg and Leipzig. While Piller has left the physical details of the truck doors in place in his images (from handles and hinges to vertical locking and support mechanisms), he has once again seamlessly removed the branding and explanatory text, leaving the women in a variety of now-oblique poses and situations.
If this general approach sounds familiar, it should – Hank Willis Thomas used a similar technique and conceptual framework in his Unbranded: A Century of White Women, 1915-2015 series from last year (reviewed here). And while the parallels between the bodies of work are many, Piller’s project both comes at the issue from a specific German perspective (both in attitude and material), and does so with contemporary examples all sourced from the dirty backs of long-haul trailers, that humble location often at odds with the underlying advertisements themselves.
In many of Piller’s clever removals, the central figure is left floating, unmoored from any meaningful action. Some of the women are reduced to the formal lines and curves of nudes – silhouetted, arms outstretched in some kind of rain (the inadvertent connection to the truck tire back splash seems poorly thought through by the advertiser), or submissively cradled in white. Other poses hit the classic clichés – the damsel in distress (her wrist dramatically raised to her forehead), the dutifully peppy office girl, and the sassy blonde with kissable lips.
The best works in the series hit harder on the head-shaking ridiculousness and sexism of the leftover scenes. A green-eyed, red haired seductress in a sparkly red dress fetchingly shows off some equally sexy laminated wood flooring. And a young blonde woman outfitted in a yellow bikini and a puffy green grass skirt seems altogether far too enthusiastic about the smorgasbord of fruit that surrounds her, the dangling grapes ready to drop into her eager mouth. Piller skewers these laughable situations with relish, their butt-end placement on the grimy trailers even more improbably ironic.
In a darkened space in the center of the gallery, Piller dissects brand identity from another, arguably inverted, direction. Here Piller has left the brand in place (in this case, the bold KRAFT factory logo captured along the same roadside again and again) and highlighted its changing surroundings via a continuous slideshow. As his car sped by day after day, he took dozens of images – in the day and at night (the sign is lit up in the dark), in sun and rain, in summer and winter, through weeds and blurs – the logo both always the same and endlessly different. Seen together, his catalog of images is like a taxonomy of subtle brand variants, his experience of the identical place and presence constantly renewed over time, each glimpse part of a layered aggregate memory.
These two new projects pull Piller more toward a thoughtful deconstruction of advertising/branding and away from the archive mining that has been his central concern in the past. In many ways, this requires a more immediate engagement with the material – making the photographs himself locates him nearer the action and precludes a more distanced, historical stance. As result, his incisive conclusions feel more vital and current – he’s not picking apart the eccentric quirks of the past, he’s rooted in thinking through the often absurd realities of the present.
Collector’s POV: The works in this show are priced as follows. The individual color prints are priced at €13500 each, while the slide projection is priced at €15000. Piller’s work has very little secondary market history, so gallery retail remains the best/only option for those collectors interested in following up.