Today Is The First Day
February 1–August 16, 2020
Wolfgang Tillmans: Today Is The First Day is the artist’s first major solo exhibition in Belgium. The show encompasses Tillmans’s output of the past three decades—including works that have never been presented publicly before—as well as recent developments in his practice, from photographs to sound and video works.
Today Is The First Day expands upon Tillmans’s highly considered approach to exhibition making, in which the installation is conceived to develop the experience of the work and amplify the artist’s perspective. Curated by Devrim Bayar and Dirk Snauwaert, this show reflects questions about visibility—as both a perceptual and political idea—that are central to the artist’s practice. Among the questions raised are: When does something become perceptible? What is the relationship between what we perceive and what we know? And what impact do new technologies have on how we see the world?
The exhibition will be accompanied by a publication, coproduced for the exhibition Rebuilding the Future, which took place at the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin, in 2018–2019. Conceived and designed by Tillmans and featuring conversations with the artist as well as several additional texts, the book explores the developments in his work over the last three years.
In a poetic passage in the book, the Irish novelist Eimear McBride describes her reaction to Tillmans’s exhibitions:
I have always loved [Tillmans’s] approach to hanging. It feels like the tangible expression of that most private place; where the artist’s sensibility is hard at work, beyond words. It’s vulnerable and resilient all at once. Thought and emotion are inextricably bound up. We feel we are being admitted into an intimacy with him but then find that it is we who have been lured into closer proximity with the humanity of others—and therefore with our own—even with the technical process. And how exactly can it be that looking at thinking can elicit quite such a powerful response? I don’t know. Apparently, it just can. That must be why art’s art. But what I like most of all is how each of these seemingly incongruous elements manage to live in the same house, with their contradictions intact. Perhaps this is because there is also a generosity at work? While I know that, rationally, it cannot be the case that images remain incomplete until they pass from their physical selves into us, their viewers, it sometimes feels that way. As though we are given access to the work as it forms itself. That this act allows it to become complete within us which, in turn, permits us to partake of its fleeting instant of being complete. And it’s really only a moment, just a fragment of time. But in it, memory turns from burden to garden. So, for that split second, we are not alone.
Wolfgang Tillmans Designs Sets for War Requiem
The English National Opera’s production of War Requiem featured sets and visual design by Wolfgang Tillmans. There were five evening performances from November 22 through December 7, 2018 at the English National Opera in St Martin’s Lane, London.
Benjamin Britten’s choral masterpiece from 1962 pairs the antiwar poetry of World War I soldier Wilfred Owen (who died a week before Armistice) with the Latin Requiem Mass, for an opera that is a "passionate outcry against man’s inhumanity to man." This production includes the full English National Opera orchestra, an eighty-person chorus, a children’s choir, a chamber orchestra, and three soloists. As set designer, Tillmans was responsible for "every item and visual you see on stage."
This was Tillmans’s debut at the English National Opera. As the artist explained, "It’s been a steep learning curve and a roller coaster of experiences in theatreland. To underscore War Requiem’s ongoing relevance, I invited Nasir Mazhar as costume designer, with whom we developed costumes that are not fixed in a specific time period of the last hundred years. The different scenes are created with three movable, eight-meter-tall LED walls and a twenty-meter-wide back projection screen, all specifically designed for this production. I thank everyone at ENO for their incredible trust, support, and enthusiasm in making this project possible."
Creative Team: Conductor: Martyn Brabbins, Director: Daniel Kramer, Set Designer: Wolfgang Tillmans, Costume Designer: Nasir Mazhar, Lighting Designer: Charles Balfour
Images: English National Opera's production of War Requiem, November 2018
Rebuilding the Future
October 26, 2018–March 10, 2019
The Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA) presented Wolfgang Tillmans: Rebuilding the Future, a major exhibition curated by Tillmans, Rachel Thomas, IMMA’s senior curator, and Sarah Glennie, director of the National College of Art and Design in Dublin. Although the artist’s work has been included in group shows at IMMA, first in 1997 and most recently in What We Call Love: From Surrealism to Now, which featured his work Central Nervous System (2013) as the exhibition poster, this will be Tillmans’s first individual presentation at the museum and his first solo project in Ireland.
Created specially for the galleries at IMMA, Rebuilding the Future expanded on the artist’s unique approach—not only to making artworks, but also to the design of exhibitions as a way to develop the experience of the work and amplify a particular perspective. More than one hundred pieces encompassing photography, sound, moving images, and works on paper were installed with special consideration of the architectural structure and atmosphere of the museum, making full use of the wall space and of relationships between the works in a given room as part of the overall narrative of the show. Tillmans also presented an immersive new sound work, I want to make a film (2018), which engages with concerns about the speed and development of personal technology; the piece debuted in a solo exhibition at David Zwirner.
Rebuilding the Future was conceived as an open question for its visitors to interpret. Featuring work that reflects on the subject of time, among other themes, the show continued Tillmans’s inquiry into what it means to create pictures in today’s increasingly image-saturated environment and how to portray a world in flux. "While [photographs] are visually so powerful, convincing, and immediate, there is a lot of symbolic meaning in [their] material fragility," the artist tells Charles Shafaieh in a profile for The Irish Times on the occasion of the exhibition; "There is a very potent contradiction in the very power and presence of a photograph, its vividness and ultimate instability. These very large unframed works [at IMMA] came from an interest in being strong, fragile and vulnerable at the same time, which certainly goes for humans. We are incredibly resilient, strong, inventive, and, at the same time, incredibly vulnerable." Rebuilding the Future followed the artist’s critically acclaimed solo show at Tate Modern in 2017.
Image: Wolfgang Tillmans, Faltenwurf (skylight), 2009 (detail). Courtesy Maureen Paley, London
Wolfgang Tillmans: LIVE from the NYPL
September 5, 2018, 7 PM
New York | Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, New York Public Library
Wolfgang Tillmans will be in conversation with Paul Holdengräber, Director of Public Programming at The New York Public Library, about art and political action. The public talk, which supports the NYPL and inaugurates the Live from the NYPL fall season, precedes How likely is it that only I am right in this matter?, an exhibition of Tillmans’s new and recent work that opens on September 13 at the gallery on West 19th Street.
Image: New York Public Library. Photo by Marley White.
Wolfgang Tillmans: Fragile traveled to Johannesburg Art Gallery from Circle Art Gallery and The GoDown Arts Centre in Nairobi, Kenya, where it was presented following its debut at the Musée d’Art Contemporain et Multimédias in Kinshasa in January. (Read more about the exhibition in i-D magazine.) Organized by the Stuttgart-based Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen (IFA) and featuring more than 200 photographs spanning 1986 to 2017, as well as installations, video works, and publications, this was the artist’s first exhibition in Africa. Underpinning the project is the idea of fragility as strength; Fragile is also the name of Tillmans’s band, with whom he made a self-directed visual album in 2016 to accompany their EP That’s Desire/Here We Are that features the transgender model Hari Nef and others dancing to its soundtrack against colored backgrounds.
In an interview with Patrick Mudekereza for the Goethe Institut at the opening of Fragile in Kinshasa, Tillmans explained his reasons for showing his work in Africa: "I work to communicate with people. I chose photography as a medium because I can speak better with it than with words. . . . I believe that cultural exchange is very important. In Europe, we see a lot of musicians and artists from Africa, but it’s my impression that there are not many ambitious exhibitions by European artists in Africa. I toured North and South America in recent years, and then decided I would like to visit a continent that I don’t know at all."
Images: Installation view, Wolfgang Tillmans: Fragile, Johannesburg Art Gallery, 2018.
What Is Different?
May 4–September 16, 2018
Wolfgang Tillmans: What Is Different?was a major survey of the artist’s practice featuring portraits and abstract photographs, works related to his ongoing Truth Study Center project (begun in 2005), and posters made in support of the anti-Brexit campaign. The exhibition related specifically to the new edition of the annual Jahresring contemporary art journal, which was guest-edited by the artist. Taking as a starting point the "backfire effect"—a phrase coined to describe how people often maintain or even strengthen their beliefs when given factual evidence against them—Tillmans interviewed scientists, politicians, journalists, and social workers in an effort to understand changes in the international political climate in recent decades, with a particular focus on right-wing populism and fake news. The artist was recently in conversation with critic and writer Sean O’Hagan at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London for the launch of the journal, which Tillmans also discusses in an article for The Guardian.
Wolfgang Tillmans Book Signing and Conversation
Wednesday, March 28, 2–4 PM
David Zwirner, Hong Kong
Wolfgang Tillmans was present to sign copies of the catalogue accompanying his first solo exhibition in Hong Kong. Designed in close collaboration with the artist, the bilingual book (English/Mandarin) features an interview with Tillmans by Allie Biswas from The Brooklyn Rail, as well as a never-before-published email exchange with the artist.
Wednesday, March 28, 7:30 PM
Hong Kong Arts Centre
Tillmans was in conversation with writer, theorist, composer, and filmmaker Trinh T. Minh-ha on the occasion of a screening of Trinh’s film The Fourth Dimension. Chaired by artist Linda Chiu-han Lai, the event was hosted by the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London with M+ and Hong Kong Arts Centre.
Tillmans is the recipient of the 2018 Kaiserring (or "Emperor’s Ring") prize from the city of Goslar in Germany. Wolfgang Tillmans: What Is Different?, a major survey of the artist’s practice demonstrating his increasingly direct engagement with current affairs, opens at the Carré d’Art in Nîmes on May 4.
What Is Different? Wolfgang Tillmans in Conversation with Sean O’Hagan
To mark the launch of the contemporary art journal Jahresring’s sixty-fourth annual edition, Wolfgang Tillmans was in conversation with critic and writer Sean O’Hagan at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London. Titled "What Is Different?," this edition of the publication, which is printed in English and German by Sternberg Press, has been guest-edited and designed by the artist.
Taking "backfire effect" as a starting point—a phrase coined to describe how people often maintain or even strengthen their beliefs when given factual evidence against them—Tillmans has interviewed scientists, politicians, journalists, and social workers in an effort to understand the political climate in recent decades, with a particular focus on right-wing populism and fake news.
Thursday, March 15, 7 PM
Cinema 1, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London
Since the early 1990s, Tillmans’s practice has epitomized a new kind of subjectivity in photography, pairing intimacy and playfulness with social critique and the persistent questioning of existing values and hierarchies. The artist’s major solo exhibition at Tate Modern, London, in 2017 included works that demonstrate his increasingly direct engagement with current affairs, from gay rights to refugee crises and climate change.
In March 2018, David Zwirner will present Tillmans’s first exhibition in Hong Kong at its newly opened gallery in H Queen’s, Central. This presentation will feature a broad selection of works that respond to their surroundings while at the same time embodying a self-contained environment.
Wolfgang Tillmans awarded the 2018 Goslarer Kaiserring
Wolfgang Tillmans is the recipient of the 2018 Kaiserring (or "Emperor’s Ring") prize from the city of Goslar in Germany. Inaugurated in 1975 and judged by a panel of curators and museum directors, the prize is organized by the city of Goslar and the Verein zur Förderung Moderne Kunst (Association for the Promotion of Modern Art). Previous winners include fellow gallery artists Isa Genzken (who was awarded the prize in 2017), Sigmar Polke, Bridget Riley, and Richard Serra.
A related solo exhibition is on view at Mönchehaus-Museum für moderne Kunst in Goslar through January 27, 2019.
ZWISCHEN 1943 UND 1973 LAGEN 30 JAHRE. 30 JAHRE NACH 1973 WAR DAS JAHR 2003
September 23–November 12
In honor of the 200th anniversary of the Kunstverein in Hamburg, Wolfgang Tillmans created a large scale installation which reflected on his practice of the last 30 years.
Titled ZWISCHEN 1943 UND 1973 LAGEN 30 JAHRE. 30 JAHRE NACH 1973 WAR DAS JAHR 2003 (There were 30 years between 1943 and 1793. 30 years from 1973 was the year 2003), the installation incorporated a 4-channel sound work created specifically for the Kunstverein, video work, and large scale photographs which were being presented publicly for the first time. Also included was an installation on metal tables which extends the artist’s truth study center project, begun in 2005.
The artist has long been connected to Hamburg, where his first exhibition was held at a cafe in 1988. In 2001, Deichtorhallen presented his first major museum survey.
Unfinished Conversations: New Work from the Collection
March 19–July 30
The photograph Sendeschluss / End of Broadcast I (2014) by Wolfgang Tillmans was included in the group exhibition Unfinished Conversations: New Work from the Collection at The Museum of Modern Art in New York. The exhibition presented works made by 15 artists during the last decade which had recently entered the museum's collection.
Sendeschluss / End of Broadcast I was first presented as part of the 10th edition of Manifesta, the European Biennial of Contemporary Art, which was held in St. Petersburg in 2014. The artist explains the context for Sendeschluss / End of Broadcast I in a feature published in i-D Magazine: "I had to find a way to make a comment. I included [in Manifesta 10] two photographs of ugly new Orthodox churches, built by the government. I also photographed television static in my Saint Petersburg hotel room as a symbol of censorship and of potential loss of connection. These became two huge pictures in the show."
As expressed in the exhibition text, Unfinished Conversations considered the intertwining themes of social protest, the effect of history on the formation of identity, and how fact and fiction can be juxtaposed in art. The title is inspired by John Akomfrah's three-channel video installation The Unfinished Conversation (2012), which is included in the exhibition.
Solo Exhibition in Basel
May 28–October 1
Wolfgang Tillmans's work was the subject of a major retrospective at Fondation Beyeler. The exhibition was the museum's first comprehensive presentation of photography, and included more than 180 works by Tillmans spanning 1989 to 2017. The artist was closely involved with the exhibition design, which also featured a new audiovisual installation.
The Daily Telegraph's review of Tillmans's critically acclaimed solo exhibition at Tate Modern in London in 2017 described how the work "broadcasts his questing, restless desire to innovate and do things differently."
You Are Looking at Something That Never Occurred
March 30–July 9
Six works by Wolfgang Tillmans spanning 2000-2012 were included in You Are Looking at Something That Never Occurred, a group exhibition exploring how artists have used the camera to blur boundaries between past and present, fact and fiction. The exhibition also featured works by fellow gallery artists Thomas Ruff and Christopher Williams.
The title of the exhibition was taken from a conversation between the artists Jeff Wall and Lucas Blalock in which they argue for art that is experimental and mysterious. Drawn exclusively from the Zabludowicz Collection, the works in the exhibition spanned 1977 to the present day.
You Are Looking at Something That Never Occurred was accompanied by a fully illustrated publication with texts by Paul Luckraft and David Campany and a round-table discussion moderated by Chris Wiley featuring Lucas Blalock, Sara Cwynar, and Erin Shirreff. Published by the Zabludowicz Collection
Solo Exhibition at Tate Modern
February 15–June 11
Praised in the press as "fresh and invigorating," "unquestionably relevant," and "thrillingly visual," this exhibition presented work Tillmans has made since 2003, a year that marked a turning point in his practice from the intimate perspective of his early photographs to an increasingly outward-looking and politically oriented one. Incorporating not only photographs but also video, digital slide projections, publications, multipart sculptural installations, and music, the show demonstrated Tillmans's deepening engagement with current affairs, from gay rights to the refugee crisis and climate change. Accompanying the exhibition was a program designed specifically for the South Tank—one of Tate Modern's circular subterranean spaces dedicated to exhibiting live art, performance, installation, and film—which transformed it into a unique, immersive installation. From March 3 - 12, this part of the show brought together music, lights, field recordings, and video and featured a series of free live music events. Tillmans's musical collaborators for this project include the Los Angeles-based rock group Wreck & Reference, Cologne's Thomas Brinkmann, and his ongoing musical partners Tim Knapp, Jay Pluck, and Juan Pablo Echeverri.
When it appeared publicly in the late 1980s, Tillmans's work signaled a new kind of subjectivity in photography. The photographs he took in ordinary settings such as clubs, friends' kitchens, and parks compose an unembellished document of Tillmans's life amid youth subcultures of the 1980s and 1990s. First published in magazines like i-D and Spex, his work was soon being shown in exhibitions.
At the heart of Tillmans's influential approach is a questioning of existing values and hierarchies. This applies not only to the subject matter and display of his work, with which he is famously innovative, but also to different areas of contemporary culture. He explained his position in conversation with Jefferson Hack in Dazed and Confused magazine following the Brexit announcement: "I never thought that it was a contradiction to be interested in music and clubbing and clothes and at the same time see how all of that is connected to society and politics."
Tillmans was the first photographer to win the Turner Prize in 2000.
On the Verge of Visibility
January 30–April 25
On the Verge of Visibility—Wolfgang Tillmans’s first solo exhibition in Portugal—presented photographic works by the artist spanning 1995 to 2016, as well as new video installations. The works were presented in a site-specific installation occupying more than 3,000 square feet of exhibition space.
Curated by Susanne Cotter, Director of the Museum Serralves, the exhibition included a number of Tillmans's photographs of the sea and sky. The artist explains his interest in these subjects in relation to the idea of borders—both real and intangible. He writes, " . . . of course all the images in our show deal with water, not only the sea pictures. as clouds are water vapour . . . The show has an underlying thread running through it, which is borders. different states of matter, between gaseous and solid and liquid. And distribution within the image area, and symbolically so in the world of humans and goods."
The exhibition publication includes images of the works, installation views, and a text by Susanne Cotter. Published by Fundação de Serralves
Your Body Is Yours
July 25–September 23
The National Museum of Art in Osaka presented Wolfgang Tillmans: Your Body is Yours, the photograher's first show at a Japanese museum in 11 years. Tillmans himself designed the exhibition space, which featured two large video installations: Book for Architects, a two-channel video work presenting 450 photographs of buildings on five continents; and Instrument, a video in which a figure's rhythmic steps produce a self-generated soundtrack to the work.
Tillmans also designed the accompanying exhibition catalogue, which included a text by Yuka Uematsu.
In 2015 Wolfgang Tillmans received The Hasselblad Foundation International Award in Photography. In conjunction with the honor, he presented an exhibition at the Hasselblad Foundation, Gothenburg, Sweden and published What’s Wrong With Redistribution (pictured below).
Watch Wolfgang Tillmans speak about his work on the occasion of his receiving the award.
Book for Architects
Wolfgang Tillmans: Book for Architects is an installation which made its debut in the 2014 Venice Architecture Biennale in the exhibition Elements of Architecture organized by Rem Koolhaas. The work was presented at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 2015 following its acquisition by the museum.
Book for Architects was created over a period of ten years during which the artist visited 37 countries on five continents, amassing over 450 photographs. The images appear as a site-specific, two-channel video installation projected onto perpendicular walls in a sequence lasting around 40 minutes. "As such," Tillmans states, "the installation represents, and emulates, the randomness, beauty and imperfection that characterizes built reality, both past and present."
The exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art received wide critical acclaim. "Through the cycling shots of exteriors, interiors, skylines, and street views," says Architectual Digest, "Tillmans paints a portrait of modern-day architecture, showing the stylistic synchronicity in our globalized world." Artforum described the exhibition as "an ambitious recalibration of the relationship between architecture and image" and The New Yorker concluded "The range is encyclopedic, the experience exhilarating."
A Book for Architects was also featured in a solo exhibition of the artist's work at the Dům Umění – Galerie Současného Umění České Budějovice in the Czech Republic.
Read more: an interview with Tillmans in i-D magazine about the project
if one thing matters, everything matters
June 6–September 4
In 2003, Wolfgang Tillmans’s first midcareer retrospective, if one thing matters, everything matters, was held at Tate Britain in London. Opening three years after Tillmans was awarded the Turner Prize, this critically acclaimed presentation marked the first time the museum had devoted an exhibition to a single photographer. Among a number of works created specifically for the show was a large-scale video installation, Lights (Body) (2000–2002).
If one thing matters, everything matters was curated by Mary Horlock in collaboration with Tillmans, who also designed an accompanying publication of the same title featuring more than 2,300 images. Jeremy Millar, who met with the artist to discuss the book, reflected, "One sees throughout Tillmans’s work a longing that moves between engagement and retreat, a fascination for the crowd and all that comes from a shared experience, the ‘sensuous community,’ but also those things which reveal themselves only when we find ourselves alone. These are the moments of reflection upon what has come before, an attempt, perhaps, to re-establish the sense of self that had previously been dissolved."
In a review for frieze magazine, Tom Morton called the exhibition "a luminous illustration of how and why we pay attention to the visual world." Reacting to the range of works on view, which included a selection from the artist’s Concorde series (1997), still lifes, portraits, and abstract works created using dye or developing fluid on light sensitive paper, Morton noted "what makes Tillmans’s best work sing: the ability, through looking a little, and loving a little, to turn events in our visual lives into vivid, everyday poetry, with all the pleasure and knotty exegesis that implies. It’s a small thing, but—as Tillmans might say—it matters."
In 2000, Wolfgang Tillmans became the first photographer to win the annual Turner Prize organized by Tate in London. The award was based on Tillmans’s solo exhibitions held in 1999, including those at Interim Art in London (now Maureen Paley gallery), Städtische Galerie in the artist’s hometown of Remscheid in Germany, and Andrea Rosen Gallery in New York, as well as his published work in books and magazines. The jury—which, among others, included Julia Peyton-Jones, then director of London’s Serpentine Gallery, Matthew Slotover, publisher of frieze magazine, and then Tate Director Nicholas Serota—praised Tillmans for his engagement with contemporary culture, his challenge to conventional aesthetics, and for taking photography in new directions though the methods and presentation of his work.
Tillmans, who studied at Bournemouth and Poole College of Art and Design in England and lived in London from 1992 to 1994, and again from 1996 to 2007, was also the first foreign artist to win the Turner Prize; the award is given to "a British artist," which includes non-nationals working in the United Kingdom and British artists working abroad. At the time—and particularly given the prominence during the 1990s of so-called YBAs (Young British Artists) including Tracey Emin, shortlisted for the prize in 1999, and Damien Hirst, who won in 1995—this important milestone sparked debates around nationality and diversity in the arts. "His work is full of life, and works best when seen in the full," Adrian Searle wrote in The Guardian of Tillmans’s Turner Prize exhibition. "The cultural life of Britain is immeasurably strengthened by those from abroad who have chosen to work here. We need different voices, different attitudes, different ways of looking at the world."
Tillmans now divides his time between Berlin and London. He created a series of posters as part of a campaign against Brexit in 2016.
Wolfgang Tillmans: View from above
The artist’s first traveling solo exhibition, Wolfgang Tillmans: View from above, presented his work at four museums across Europe. Following its debut at Deichtorhallen in Hamburg, the show traveled to Castello di Rivoli in Turin, Palais de Tokyo in Paris, and finally the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Humlebæk, Denmark. The exhibition was accompanied by a catalogue featuring previously unpublished works and contributions by Zdenek Felix, Ida Gianelli, Jerôme Sans, Nicolas Bourriaud, and Poul Erik Tojner; the publication includes a conversation between Tillmans and Nathan Kernan, and an essay by Giorgio Verzotti.
View from above focused on the artist's abstract work in series begun in 2000 such as Blushes, Conquistador, and Mental Pictures. Consistent with Tillmans's practice as a whole, these explore different types of image-making, either through the artist's intervention or by chance during the process of producing the work. In Blushes, for example, thin marks on a wedding day sky the surface of inkjet prints are made by manually exposing photographic paper to various light sources in the darkroom before processing the picture. Although self-referential, these works nonetheless remain true to their medium—something that is important to the artist. As Tillmans explained in an interview in Art on Paper in 2001 (later reprinted in a Phaidon monograph), the Blushes works "do not do anything that photography doesn't do anyway, because they record light. . . . they are as truthful as any photograph can be." Other works in the show, including examples from the Conquistador and Aufsicht series, reflect Tillmans’s engagement with mistaken or unpredictable effects, such as black marks on the image resulting from interference by the technical equipment. In his Artforum review of the exhibition, Wolf Jahn observed how the works demonstrated Tillmans's "preference for surfaces [in which] the dichotomy between being and seeming is replaced by the idea of an essential appearance. This may be the source of the genuinely unpretentious aspect that Tillmans grants the surfaces of things. . . . Many of the motifs evoke the impression of a pattern more than some dramaturgy that might underlie them."