Progression of Art
Lutz & Alex Sitting In the Trees
Fresh out of Bournemouth College of Art and Design and newly residing in London, Wolfgang Tillmans made a series of portraits of his lifelong friends Lutz and Alex in various states of undress. Ambivalent and laconic, Lutz & Alex sitting in trees depicts the androgynous couple sitting naked on tree branches, each donning wide open raincoats revealing their bare chests. It questions gender and sexuality without fully acknowledging either. As Liz Jobey described for The Guardian, "As a couple they look naive yet knowing, an Adam and Eve for the ecstasy generation."
While the photograph seems oddly candid, Tillmans claims otherwise, "the reality was there and it was put there." It questions the way artists approach fine-art photography, eschewing conceptions of naturality by employing the techniques of fashion photography to everyday subjects. They are, "re-enactments of potentially real situations"
Tillmans challenged conceptions about fine art photography and blurred the lines between photographic naturalism and studio photography, influencing a new generation of photographers like Alec Soth. In doing so, photographs like Lutz & Alex sitting in trees helped define contemporary culture of the 90s.
truth study center
Reacting to the Iraq War and the presidency of George W. Bush, truth study center explores the quagmires of Western neoliberalism and religious fundamentalism with "photocopies of erroneous information, juxtaposed with political texts written with great analytical clarity," and, "absurdities, humour and photographs of religious and everyday situations." Part lab and part archive, Tillmans "was driven by the realisation that many global problems have resulted from false proclamations of absolute truths," as he described in an editorial written for the Guardian in 2018. By combining a wide variety of mediums, he constructs a scenario that depicts and analyzes this tendency, while also, by extension, diagnoses it.
The work has been shown in different venues, each time containing new content, each incarnation lending a slightly different focus. In this way, the work has grown along with the proliferation of "fake-news" and tries to more adequately confront this phenomenon. Most recently, the piece has morphed into book form as What Is Different. It confronts the idea of the "backfire effect," in which a person is shown evidence against one of their beliefs, but becomes more convinced in their falsehood rather than changing their viewpoint.
This work is an extension of Tillmans' earlier groundbreaking installations of taped prints and pinned magazine spreads, but goes a step further by taking the work off the wall, displaying art as artifact, and in doing so shifting our perception of the work as visual evidence. Tillmans mixes more than mediums with truth study center, he mixes disciplines, creating a new approach to art and study which expands the opportunity for understanding. The viewer is an invited into this experiment, making their own connections and conclusions, becoming a participant in the lab, and flattening the hierarchies between objects, an extension of Tillmans 2003 aphorism, "If one thing matters, then everything matters."
Installation of photographs, texts, clippings, pamphlets, and other mixed media
paper drop (window)
In paper drop (window), we see a sheet of photo paper curled over itself, almost unidentifiable, illuminated with green light reminiscent of the sea, and pierced at the center by cool white light. From the title, we can assume this light is an open window, but it is not defined as such by any other indicators. The single sheet of photo paper is carefully rendered as sculptural - possessing weight - but returned to the picture plane, made flat by being photographed.
Tillmans has always had an ambivalent relationship with photography. His work began on photocopiers, and part of his practice has always been looking at ways to circumvent the camera. In 2001, Tillmans returned to this kind of process-based image making, experimenting with creating "cameraless photographs" by letting the silver salt stains and dust of a dirty processor create, "a picture not of anything in the world, but a picture of its own making." Later, he would project colored light onto bent and curled photo paper then develop the results into dreamy, Mark Rothko-like fields of color. Ultimately, this would lead to the paper drop series where he would inverse the process of photography by photographing darkroom paper folded and lit by colored lights, recording light sensitizing paper rather than the imprint left by light on the sensitized medium.
Tillmans questions and reaffirms our expectations of photography in the same work. It is abstract, but still representational, utilizing traditional photographic materials to make a sculpture that is then made back into a photograph; a meta execution of photography, self-referential and recursive. These processes question the subjectivity of photography and reaffirm the expressive qualities of the medium. They also position Tillmans as a Conceptual artist, not just a great seer, in his, "taking a very flimsy, fleeting little idea, grabbing hold of it, and taking it seriously."
Astro Crusto is a vivid portrayal of pinks, oranges, and reds - sublime in their saturation - contrasted with the purest white. Only the large fly reminds you that the image depicts a half consumed lobster in a display of decadence and lavishness.
After his intense experimentation with light and paper, Tillmans shifted his focus to still lifes, imagined reverentially as altars. Ordinary, everyday objects are depicted with an almost divine importance where their colors and textures are tightly cropped to maximize a sensual effect.
"There are still many misconceptions about what I do," Tillmans opines, "that my images are random and everyday, when they are actually neither. They are, in fact, the opposite. They are calls to attentiveness." This image reminds us to be present in our relationship with the world; the strongest moments are actually a strange mix of the sensual and the surreal, and often subtly political.
shit buildings going up left, right, and centre
In this image of a sunny city street, we see two figures dwarfed by the enormous magnitude of new construction. Each building is a matrix of itself, endlessly repeating toward the top of the page: a quiet picture, engaging in its repetition and compression. Yet, Tillmans bluntly characterizes his feelings with the title shit buildings going up left, right, and centre, a direct attack against the unfeeling world of development, globalization, and gentrification. The title is so blunt, in fact, that our reading of the image can never quite be divorced from it.
The photograph represents the moment in which Tillmans concisely combines the acuteness of his eye and a commitment to progressive politics with an unflinching vision. It synthesizes the need for art to be political while still being expressive in a deftly executed photograph. Proceeding from this point, Tillmans became highly engaged with the political readings of his work, setting the course for his mature practice.
arms and legs
Arms and legs takes the intimate act of a man reaching into another man's shorts and depicts a beautiful choreography of limbs. The closely-cropped arrangement is nearly abstract, but gestural enough to leave no mistake about what is taking place. Instead of being graphic, the image is comfortable, natural and nowhere pornographic. The image becomes an amalgamation of elbows and knees and of the saturated rippling of shorts around a fist, depicting gay love with a tender beauty. Yet, it does not sensationalize - nor trivialize through pornography - but instead normalizes the act. It works as a political work of Identity Politics, but also shows Tillmans' questioning of the role and history of the fine art photograph by taking an intimate act and turning it into an abstraction.
By exploring the vulnerability of his own friends within the marginalized LGBT+ lifestyle, Tillman's work served to normalize queerness for the masses.
Inkjet Print and clips