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Monday 08.14.06

« O! Vey | Main | Game Show Deadline Reminder »

Tillmans in Chicago

Tillmans' Deer Hirsch 1995

Wolfgang Tillmans large show at the MCA in Chicago ended yesterday. It travels to UCLA's Hammer Museum next and it wasn't so much of a revelation as an interesting way to revisit the already familiar. What I mean by that is his nonchalant fashion shots for magazines like Interview etc. and often highly staged subculture scenes seem ubiquitous and have been so adopted or used previously by other photographers that all sense of individual style seems to have evaporated from them. Everything photographed by Tillmans seems exhausted, like the viewer just missed something much better.

Tillmans' Lutz, Alex, Suzanne, & Christof on neach (b&w) 1993

What is left is the layout of the work and by those terms Tillmans really is an installation artist or someone doing a layout that may or may not ever become a magazine. (these images really dont convey the show, to get that try scrolling down here) By pairing so much youth obsessed work with landscape the work certainly seeks to connect the experience of youth with the rest of the world. There are pictures of socks, sex, club scenes, staged groupings and landscape photos which convey a kind of urban bohemian rootlessness as if the photo itself is the closest thing to solidity that these fleeting and tacit moments will ever have. There is some truth to that and I think Tillmans is good at capturing the nihilism of people age 18-38 and our urge to congregate together in the face of uncertainty.

This capturing of intimate and group behavior isn't so much an examination of faith as a documentation of existential busywork. That is precisely why his photos only come alive in groupings. What's interesting is how weak some of the images are individually. It is intentional. Gus Van Sant conveys similar sentiments about youth and existential freedom/oppression without the weak moments though.

The effect from Tillmans is good but not great... no wonder he's popular within contemporary art, which often gives extra points to work that doesn't expose weakness in the viewer or other artists. It's an all inclusive sentiment that is fading fast these days, all so very 2002 for the US and Europe has been that way for decades.

Tillmans' Smokin' Jo 1995

But there is more to this photographer and Tillman's doesn't just shoot the young. He's clearly spent quality time with home furnishings, shaker communities and as previously mentioned, the staged landscape. All of these impersonal situations have an oppressive air that is cultivated by his lens. Familiarity breeds contempt as well as empathy and his interior shots are particularly loaded with this pleasant and leveling ennui. His fashion shots like "Smokin' Jo" often have the same feel as the furniture shots. I actually think its a counterintuitive kind of respect.

Frieschwimmer 26 2003

Tillmans also has an interesting series of abstracted forms called "Frieschwimmer" which loosely translates to "swimmer who swims towards freedom." Like most abstractions it foregrounds philosophical content better than his other works.

Will Tillman's drown in his current success and ubiquity or will his work stick? I suspect it will last as an interesting documentation of late 20th century ennui and a testament of how valuable it is to be in the contemporary art world while not being wholly defined by it. Who knows if that will matter in 50 years, it mattered during the 90's and that is something. It does however matter now since nobody has any idea where things are going and some connection to the recent past is helpful in the immediate future.

Note… if you are curious to see how this sort of photography is being changed by a younger generation check out Daniel Peterson who has been documenting the bohemian Portland art scene with a more magical flair. He could learn a thing or two from Tillmans' installations though.

Posted by Jeff Jahn on August 14, 2006 at 13:22 | Comments (0)


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