Few artists have shaped the scope of contemporary art and influenced a younger generation more than Wolfgang Tillmans. Since the early 1990s, his works have epitomized a new kind of subjectivity in photography, pairing intimacy and playfulness with social critique and the persistent questioning of existing values and hierarchies. Through his seamless integration of genres, subjects, techniques, and exhibition strategies, he has expanded conventional ways of approaching the medium and his practice continues to address the fundamental question of what it means to create pictures in an increasingly image-saturated world.
Born in 1968 in Remscheid, Germany, Wolfgang Tillmans studied at Bournemouth and Poole College of Art and Design in Bournemouth, England, from 1990 to 1992. In 2000, Tillmans was the first photographer and first non-British artist to receive the Turner Prize, an award given annually by Tate in London. In 2009, he received the Kulturpreis der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Photographie and was selected to serve as an Artist Trustee on the Board of Tate. He has been a member of the Akademie der Künste, Berlin, since 2012 and was appointed a member of the Royal Academy of Arts, London, in 2013. Tillmans was the recipient of the 2015 Hasselblad Foundation International Award in Photography and in January 2018, he was awarded the Kaiserring (or “Emperor’s Ring”) prize from the city of Goslar in Germany. The artist joined David Zwirner in 2014, and PCR marked his inaugural exhibition with the gallery in New York the following year.
Since the early 1990s, Tillmans’s work has been the subject of prominent solo exhibitions at international institutions. In 2003, his first midcareer retrospective, if one thing matters, everything matters, was presented at Tate Britain in London to much critical acclaim. In 2006, Tillmans’s first New York museum exhibition, titled Freedom from the Known, was hosted by P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, Long Island City. On view later that year was his first American museum survey, consisting of approximately three hundred photographs, co-organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles. It traveled to the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC, in 2007, followed by the Museo Tamayo, Mexico City, in 2008. In 2010, the Serpentine Gallery, London, organized a major survey of the artist’s work that subsequently toured through South America in 2012. The exhibition traveled to the Museo de Arte del Banco de la República, Bogotá; Museo de Arte de Lima; and the Museo de Artes Visuales, Santiago. In 2012, the Kunsthalle Zürich presented photographs from the artist’s body of work Neue Welt, which traveled the following year to Les Rencontres d’Arles in France. Also in 2012, the Moderna Museet, Stockholm, displayed a selection of works spanning twenty-five years; the show traveled to the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf, in 2013. In 2015, Your Body is Yours was presented at The National Museum of Art, Osaka. Also in 2015, Book for Architects, a two-channel video installation, was on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, as well as a solo show at the D m Umění – Galerie Sou asného Umění eské Budějovice, Czech Republic. In 2016, a solo show of the artist’s work was hosted by Museu Serralves, Porto.
In 2017, Tate Modern in London held a major survey exhibition of Tillmans’s work. The artist also presented a new immersive installation featuring his work in music and video in the South Tank at the museum. Later that year, solo shows of Tillmans’s work were on view at the Fondation Beyeler in Basel, marking the institution’s first comprehensive examination of photography as a medium, as well as at the Kunstverein in Hamburg.
Fragile, a major solo exhibition of the artist’s work, opened in 2018 at the Musée d’Art Contemporain et Multimédias in Kinshasa, organized by Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen, Stuttgart, Goethe-Institut Kinshasa, and Académie des Beaux-Arts, Democratic Republic of Congo. The show traveled to Circle Art Gallery, Nairobi; The GoDown Arts Centre, Nairobi; Johannesburg Art Gallery, Johannesburg; Modern Art Museum Gebre Kristos Desta Center Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; and the Contemporary Art Gallery, Yaoundé, Cameroon. Qu'est-ce qui est différent? was presented at Carré d'Art - Nîmes Museum of Contemporary Art, Nîmes, France, in 2018. Rebuilding the Future was on view at Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin, in 2018-2019. The solo exhibition Today Is The First Day was presented at WIELS, Contemporary Art Centre, Brussels, in 2020.
The artist has operated the non-profit exhibition space Between Bridges since 2006. First located in London until 2011, Between Bridges has exhibited a range of work by artists, including David Wojnarowicz, Ull Hohn, Charlotte Posenenske, and Charles Henri Ford. In January 2014, it reopened in Berlin with a solo show of work by Patrick Caulfield. From 2003 to 2009, Tillmans served as a professor at the Städelschule in Frankfurt.
Tillmans considers the printed page to be an important venue for his work. He is deeply involved in the publication of artist books and monographs, and regularly contributes to magazines. Publications that have been designed and edited by the artist include Wolfgang Tillmans: manual (Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König, 2007); Wolfgang Tillmans: Lighter (Hatje Cantz, 2008); Wolfgang Tillmans: Abstract Pictures (Hatje Cantz, 2011); Wolfgang Tillmans: FESPA Digital / FRUIT LOGISTICA (Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König, 2012); Neue Welt: Wolfgang Tillmans (Taschen, 2012); and Wolfgang Tillmans: The Cars (Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König, 2015), amongst others. In 2019, the artist guest edited Aperture’s “Spirituality” issue.
In recent years, Tillmans has been more directly involved in political activism. In tandem with his ongoing Truth Study Center project (begun in 2005), he has created posters for the anti-Brexit campaign in Britain and in response to right-wing populism in Germany.
Work by the artist is held in museum collections worldwide, including the Art Institute of Chicago; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Moderna Museet, Stockholm; Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago; Museum Ludwig, Cologne; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; The National Museum of Art, Osaka; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; Tate, London; and the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota. Tillmans lives and works in Berlin and London.