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.
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.