Wolfgang Tillmans, Out of the Boxes @Rosen

JTF (just the facts): A total of 60 color photographs, framed in white but not matted, and hung in double rows in the small, single room back gallery. The c-prints are displayed in two sizes: 12×16 or reverse, in editions of 10+AP, and 20×24 or reverse, in editions of 3+AP. There are 23 images in the medium size and 37 images in the small size in the show. The works were made between 1991 and 2010 and are arranged roughly chronologically. (Installation shots at right.)
Comments/Context: Given how prolific Wolfgang Tillmans is, it’s not at all surprising that his gallery would have a large number of boxes of his prints in different sizes back in the storage room, in the event a potential collector or client might like to review a selection of works. With this exhibit, the gallery has begun a multi-part series where it will invite an individual curator to look through these boxes of ready prints and to select a group to be displayed in the small single room space near the offices. The show builds on Tillmans’ own idea of a living, growing artistic archive, one that can be remixed and re-edited to generate alternate views. The difference here is that instead of Tillmans carefully doing the choosing and sequencing (as is normally the case), someone else is jumping into the complexity of his work and drawing his or her own conclusions.

This first incarnation was organized by Beatrix Ruf, director of the Kunsthalle Zurich, and takes a subtly formalist approach to Tillmans’ work. Rather than explore groupings of common subject matter or overarching theme, she has opted for a generally chronological plan, where the images are double hung in dense ribbons around the room. In sifting through the boxes, her eye seems to have been attracted by echoes and patterns of form; the show has a sense of forward momentum that draws the viewer around the circle of the space, and visual ideas and motifs are continually repeated and refrained using pairs of images, either hung side by side, or just nearby enough to make sure the doubling effect doesn’t get lost. There are obvious subject matter pairs, like two chairs, two flowers, two furled book pages, or two architectural details, as well as pairs of color (purple shirt followed by purple sky or red shirt followed by red leaves), pairs of form (the moon and a male nude), and pairs of theme (man washing in the Ganges with a man taking a shower). I’m sure that if this show was parsed even more carefully, it would be found to be full of these echoes, puns, and connections.

What these repackaged juxtapositions tell us about Tillmans’s photography that we didn’t already know is less clear; quite a few of the images on view here will be familiar to those that saw his last show at the gallery in 2010 (review here). This selection and arrangement imposes a framework that often focuses the viewer on elements of composition, showing us that Tillmans may have consciously repeated similar ideas across relatively short periods of time, the structures explored serially and then sometimes returned to in modified form again and again. Or perhaps some of these connections were completely unconscious, only visible when seen at the aggregate level across many years.

Rather than pin too much on one intepretation or another or to unnaturally overthink things, I think it is best to see this show as a cleverly selected Tillmans playlist, with hits and rarities in equal measure, and with a conscious set of smart connections to make you think as you shuffle from one image to the next.

Collector’s POV: The prints in this show are priced as follows. The 12×16 prints are $8000 each, while the 20×24 prints are $16000 each. Tillmans’ work is consistently available in the secondary markets, with prices ranging between $2000 and $50000 in recent years.

Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)

Transit Hub:

  • Artist site (here)

Wolfgang Tillmans, Out of the Boxes
Through June 11th

Andrea Rosen Gallery
525 West 24th Street
New York, NY 10011

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One comment

  1. Sam Boetti /

    Gets my vote for best show of the year (so far).

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