JTF (just the facts): A total of 25 large scale color photographs, variously framed and displayed, and hung against white walls in the main gallery space, the connecting hallway, the back gallery, and the office area. Most of the works are inkjet prints on paper, some mounted on aluminum and framed in white, others unframed and clipped directly to the wall. These prints range in size from roughly 31×25 to 95×63 (or reverse) and are available in editions of 3+1AP or 1+1AP depending on size. 3 of the works are c-prints mounted on dibond and framed in white; they are each sized 93×71 (or reverse) and are available in editions of 1+1AP. The exhibit also includes a grid of 128 offset prints. All of the works were made between 2009 and 2012. Monographs of Neue Welt and Fruit Logistica were recently published by Taschen (here) and Walther König (here). (Installation shots at right.)
Comments/Context: In his most recent work, Wolfgang Tillmans has set himself an audacious goal – to capture the astonishingly diverse spirit of our sprawling, global, hyper-connected, 21st century world. Bouncing from continent to continent over the past few years, he has made pictures in countless locations, from Jeddah to Buenos Aires, Shanghai to Addis Ababa, and Los Angeles to Munuwata, selecting moments that have the first glance look of random snapshots, but soon coalesce into a deeper set of underlying patterns and rhythms. In his hands, our complex world resolves itself into set of contradictions, finding an uneasy balance between confusingly interwoven and juxtaposed realities.
Tillmans has always thought deeply about editing and image sequencing, and this exhibit is no exception. It moves back and forth with directed purpose, mixing emblems of old and new in a point-counterpoint dialogue, the visual conversation interrupted occasionally by an elegant abstraction to turn the viewer back inward for just a moment. The broadness of the starry night sky over Kilimanjaro is matched by computerized laser astronomy tools, improvised markets of crouching women and outstretched tarps are offset by the perfect displays at a futuristic food tradeshow, and the natural, earthy growth of mushroom spores on a tree trunk is set against the sleek, engineered headlights of high tech cars at an auto show. His eye pushes us to see the simultaneity of disparity and difference all around us. The hopelessly poor streets of Addis Ababa clash with the shiny escalators of a Jeddah shopping mall, the soot encrusted roof of a Masai hut fights with the mundane sterility of a hotel room, and the timeless games on the nighttime streets of Shanghai disregard the modern metal buildings of Los Angeles. We are at once pushing forward with energy and innovation and dragged back to the roots of our existence.
Given the complexity of Tillmans’ overall argument, it might be reasonable to assume that the whole would be greater than the sum of the parts here, but there are more standout single images in this show than I can ever remember seeing in a Tillmans show. The car headlights are aggressively streamlined and technical, the fly perched on a mass of crab legs is bold and compositionally dense, and the water flowing out of a plastic pipe into the gutter is gracefully dirty. In this particular edit, his eye for color and detail is very strong, especially when he moves in close.
Trying to document the global zeitgeist is a perilous challenge, but Tillmans has found a way to represent the complexity of our age with remarkable coherence and legibility. His works capture both our lofty aspirations and our crude realities, without a sense of omniscient pretense or judgment. In these diverse photographs, he shows us all our glorious incongruity and discord, singling out its extremities with perceptive interest.
Collector’s POV: The works in this show are priced as follows. The inkjet prints range from $28000 to $68000 based on size, while the large c-prints from the Silver series are $90000 each. Tillmans’ work is generally available in the secondary markets, with a handful of images on offer in most auction seasons. Recent prices have generally ranged between $2000 and $90000.