16th April 2017
I didn’t really know much about Wolfgang Tillmans before visiting this exhibition, I had seen many posters around London advertising it and I had heard the name in the past. It was probably when I got into the third of fourteen rooms making up the exhibition that I began to think is this about the individual works or should the whole exhibition be viewed as a single installation. The rooms were full of images both large and small, framed and unframed, isolated and in large arrays. There were display cases of pages torn from magazines, books and images scattered on tables. In many ways, the exhibition is compelling it pulls you in and leaves you wondering what is coming next. The photographic work is very varied, abstracts, portraits, still life, street scenes etc. Initially the work almost has a feeling on randomness or naivety but it soon becomes clear that there are clear political themes running through the works showing Tillmans as a dedicated, socially aware artist who uses his work to promote his views.
Some of Tillmans‘ work features staged pictures of his friends like the one of Juan Pablo and Karl below, these are often mistakenly thought of as documentary work whereas in fact they are careful conceived and executed to make a statement.
There is also a lot of quite intimate portraits of both famous and anonymous people, although the picture below stretches the definition of portraiture to me it fits well into this intimate strand of Tillmans’ work.
The anonymous Indian man below standing next to what we assume must be his purple car is another example of one of Tillmans’ portrait themes which he has repeated worldwide. What does this work show? Perhaps that the possessions young men take pride in is similar all over the world.
Greifbar 29 that was used on many on the cover of the exhibition catatalog and many posters advertising the show shows another side of Tillmans. This is not a photograph taken with a camera but rather an image made by carefully controlling how light and chemicals react with photosensitive paper.
Another set of abstract work I liked was the photodrop series on of which is show below, it took me a while to realise that these are just very carefully positioned and light folded sheets on inkjet paper.
Finally there are a number of still life pictures, the famous on below of the discarded crustacean shells with a large fly, perhaps a commentary on mortality?
I thought when hung as a fifteen-foot-high print the picture of the weed below was stunning, not so much for the size of the picture impact but rather as an example of how great works can be made from any subject. I am sure this was not a found scene, I suspect other plants were removed and the decaying leaves carefully placed before several lights were carefully arranged to create this scene but that doesn’t detract from the work.
In many ways, this was a roller coaster of an exhibition sometime times a little dull, sometimes joyous, sometimes challenging but every one of the works seemed to have a quite clear underlying message.