Wolfgang Tillmans @Andrea Rosen

JTF (just the facts): A total of 85 color images in various sizes, unframed and either taped or binder clipped directly to the walls, and hung at multiple heights in the entry, main gallery, hallway, and back room. (Installation shots at right.) 20 of the images are printed in the smallest size (4×6) and clustered together as part of the installation in the entry only. The other 65 images are printed in one of 4 permutations:

  • c-print, 12×16 or reverse, editions of 10+AP
  • c-print, 20×24 or reverse, editions of 3+AP
  • c-print, largest size (no dimensions given; not in the exhibition), editions of 1+AP
  • inkjet print, 82×54 or reverse, editions of 1+AP

All of the works are from the period 2006 to 2009, except for the framed collection of images in the entry (executed as a single work) which is from 2002. There is one image which is duplicated (Arup, 2007) in two different sizes on two different walls.

Comments/Context: When trying to put Wolfgang Tillmans into some kind of historical context, I have always thought he was a photographic descendant of Nan Goldin. Using a casual snapshot aesthetic, his work from the 1990s centered on himself and his inner circle of friends, often documenting small moments of intimacy, the exuberance of the club scene, or the chaotic afterparty mess found in the bedroom and kitchen. At first glance, many of the images seemed entirely forgettable, but with more sustained looking, I came to appreciate their genuine freshness and their ability to document the immediacy and hidden importance of the present.
What I found intriguing in this show of Tillmans‘ new work is that he seems to have moved on from documenting the nuances of his internal life and has begun to look outward at the world around him with more deliberateness. Perhaps this is simply the result of being a recognized art world star, with a hectic travel schedule that takes him away from his close friends and to the far reaches of the globe, or perhaps it is a function of being a little older. In any event, there are very few of his signature shots of youth culture in this exhibit; no portraits or nudes of friends, no joking or beer bottles or full ashtrays. This is an externally focused Tillmans, seeing the cultural details and rich surfaces of what surrounds him, from Bangkok to Gaza, from Moscow to Tunisia.
This evolution has taken his work away from the emotionally charged landscape of Goldin toward a cooler and more detached examination of the nuances of color and form, in the mode of Eggleston, with a youthful, international edge. An open window with a red mosaic tile edge becomes a complex composition of lines. A cage full of chicks dyed garish hues of pink, yellow, purple, and green becomes a painterly mixture of fuzzy blobs. The overlooked fabric on a long distance bus seat is suddenly seen to be a dizzying tangle of overly vibrant colors. Stacks of eggs in cardboard cartons become layers of unexpected geometries.
This exhibition also has a very strong sense of time, of the 21st century “right now” and the interconnected world we inhabit today. This comes not from any single image, but from the cumulative effect of the pictures seen together. The specific installation of the works enhances this result I think – the huge images force the viewer to step back and take in a wider view of the gallery (and the interrelated themes being presented), while the small images require the viewer to engage in a more intimate conversation. This ebbing and flowing movement is then controlled by the sequencing of the images, where the story and mood of our less rooted and more anonymous international existence is slowly pieced together. Computer screens, views from open air taxis, tourist monuments, and people dressed in elaborate motorcycle leathers remind us of both the known and unknown around us. The image of the girl with her faced pressed up against a window is perhaps the most emblematic of this modern situation: on the outside, looking in, and seeing the strangeness around us as something both pleasing and unexpected.

I have often thought that Tillmans‘ work likely performs best in groups rather than as single stand alone images, and this show has not changed my opinion on this aspect of his artistic approach; while there are quite a few startling hits in this show, there are also plenty of works that aren’t nearly as memorable. To my eye, the standouts of this show are the still life of a pear in a plastic bag near a clove of garlic, and the two faltenwurf still lifes of rumpled clothes (one a yellow shirt, the other a pair of underwear). These alone are well worth a visit to this show. But it is the overall effect of the works seen together (especially in this unorthodox installation) that drives home Tillmans‘ unique view of the atmospheric visual overload of life as we know it.
Collector’s POV: As I mentioned above, all of the works in this show, except the small 4×6 images in the entry (not for sale), are available in one of four print sizes. As such, there are four prices for each work, as follows:
  • c-print, small: $8000
  • c-print, medium: $16000
  • c-print, large, $57000
  • inkjet print, large, $48000
The large framed collection of earlier images (in the entry) is available as one work for $95000. Tillmans‘ work is generally available in the secondary markets, with a handful of images on offer each season. Prices have ranged between $2000 and $50000 in recent years.
As an aside, this exhibition is a great example of how scale changes the impact of an image. There is truly an amazing difference between a banner/poster sized work and one that is 12×16, and not all images work well (or at all) at various sizes. An intriguing side discussion would be to consider why Tillmans chose the sizes he did for the installation, and how the exhibit would have been different if different pieces were alternately large or small. For collectors, there may indeed be one “optimal” size for any given image, and it may not be the one that is currently on view.
Rating: ** (two stars) VERY GOOD (rating system described here)
Transit Hub:
  • Artist site (here)
  • Reviews: New York (here), Artforum (here, scroll down)
Wolfgang Tillmans
Through March 13th
Andrea Rosen Gallery
525 West 24th Street
New York, NY 10011

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