Wolfgang Tillmans @ Tate Modern


Wolfgang Tillmans
Tate Modern

Installation shot, in font of Wolfgang Tillmans, Blushes no.136 (2014) (detail) (plus me, for scale)

UNTIL 11th JUNE 2017

Wolfgang Tillmans, a non-retrospective, and the best photography show I have seen a long time.

This is partly down to the compelling nature of the photographs themselves, and partly down to how they are displayed; a humungous cascading waterfall when you turn one corner, two men smoking high above your head, a larger than life ‘study’ of some sweaty man balls held up with bulldog clips through the next room. As you can see, his subjects vary ( a lot). But they are all the same in their raw, lifelike nature- and they come in all shapes and sizes.

What they are not, is themed, chronologized, all neatly framed side by side. There is no hierarchy, nor any immediately apparent rhyme or reason. And thank God at 14 rooms of the stuff. It certainly keeps you on your toes, and each photograph is given life- space to breathe in what is not merely a photography show, but a full scale installation. By removing the images so far from any recognizable environment, the mundane is made alien, the meaning no longer inherent. By placing two seemingly random images together, he re-contextualizes them.




Despite the attempted anchoring of time in the title (“2017”) there seems to be a distinct abandoning of it. A frothing wave hangs in mid-air and a piece of paper pronounces “The beginning of the Iraq War in 2003 is now 14 years ago. In 14 years it will be year 2031.” Tillmans has even captured light itself in his camaraless abstract series Blushes – a series he has been working on since 2000. Blushes no 136 takes up an entire narrow corridor, drawing you into its dancing blue shapes. The series is reliant upon what is inherently uncapturable – nature. One gets a sense of the isolation or abstraction of time, and questions its very nature. Yup guys, time is a construct. And if photography stops time, Wolfgang questions the very nature of his medium.

La Palma (2014), Wolfgang Tillmans

In an age where everybody calls themselves a photographer, Tillmans shows what it actually means to be one. What I could’ve done away with, is the newspaper clippings etc. on wooden benches in some of the rooms. Nice touch? Sure. Lends an academic hook for the pictures to hang on? Yeah. But really, the images are enough to speak for themselves. They subtly address a very wide range of social and political concerns (Brexit, the media, climate change, sexuality etc.) but don’t rely on this to give it strength.They appear candid, but there’s more beneath the surface.


Wolfgang Tillmans Collum (2011)

Wolfgang Tillmans, Collum, 2011.


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