May 28 – October 1, 2017
This year's big summer exhibition is devoted to the artist Wolfgang Tillmans. It is the first comprehensive engagement with the medium of photography at the Fondation Beyeler, which some time ago added a wonderful group of works by Tillmans to its collection. Around 200 photographic works dating from 1989 to 2017 will be on show from May 28 to October 1, together with a new audiovisual installation.
Tillmans first made a name for himself in the early 1990s through photographs that have attained iconic status for their evocation of the mood of an entire generation, with its carefree urge for freedom and its desire to seize life’s moments. Soon, however, he widened his focus, experimenting with the means of photography to develop a new visual language. He created his images with and without a camera and also using a photocopier. In addition to traditional genres such as portrait, still life and landscape, the exhibition presents abstract works that play with the limits of the visible. It will show how Tillman’s work is concerned with the creation of images rather than with photography in the conventional sense. The exhibition is being designed in close cooperation with the artist.
The portrait is a constant that runs through Tillmans’s oeuvre. Accordingly, the exhibition includes many portraits made in various contexts. Tillmans’s portraits are characterized by the sitters’ great presence, immediacy, and spontaneity. He makes a point of avoiding dramatic staging, such as manipulated lighting, aiming to capture the tension-charged first encounter with the model. Tillmans is interested in the unfamiliar, less obvious aspects of his sitters, rather than the preconceived image or impression they wish to convey. This notion frequently amounts to vulnerability combined with charm and strength tempered by weakness, which is revealed when a person is confronted by the camera. Tillmans has accompanied and regularly photographed his friends for many years. Yet he also captures spontaneous portraits of chance and casual acquaintances. Tillmans has, furthermore, been commissioned to shoot magazine cover spreads and album artwork for a number of celebrities and musicians.
NITE QUEEN, 2013
Another genre found in Tillmans’s work is the still life: a symbol of time, transitoriness, and abundance that has been featured in art for centuries. In his still lifes, the artist lets subject, place and time enter a dialogue. For instance, he might begin by arranging flowers, fruit, or mundane objects into an ensemble. Then he leaves this “living still life” to itself for a while—sometimes returning to it after months, or even years, when he feels the moment has come to capture the motif in an image. Thanks to the resulting picture’s dimensions, the lighting conditions, form and color, and flatness or volume of the objects can be precisely inspected. This exploratory gaze and conscious observation can help us to overcome habitual vision and perception.
FALTENWURF, SHINY, 2001
In Faltenwurf, shiny, Tillmans confronts us with a composition of two elaborately folded and gathered articles of clothing in different shades of green. The out-of-focus image does not reveal what holds these draped pieces together. For Tillmans, “clothing is per se what we see of people”—the membrane between them and us. The metaphor of a “second skin” presents itself here. After all, we usually encounter each other while clothed. Our body is ever-present, although concealed. Divorced from its wearer, a piece of clothing can be a sculptural object that occupies space, and presents itself to the viewer as a thing of beauty in and of itself.
PAPER DROP (REVERSED) II, 2011
Tillmans’s paper drops are both sensuous and graceful. One half of a sheet of photo paper curves back over the other and seemingly dissolves into the brilliant white of the background. The shimmering green surface of the paper shines out of the drop-like shape. The light reflections on the glossy paper, the barely visible shadows, and strong contrasts reduce the depicted object to forms and lines. For the artist, photo paper possesses “its own elegance, when it bends, when you let it hang from your hand, or hold it in both hands.” Folded into a drop shape, the sheet exposes the perfection of things beyond any signs of wear. Thus, Tillmans challenges our eye to perceive a threedimensional object by subtly transforming it into an abstract, two-dimensional shape.
In Gedser, a man immersed in a telephone conversation turns his back on us. The idiosyncrasy of the picture becomes evident only on second look. There is a ghostly white figure passing through the scene, seemingly dissolving into the sky. This image represents a great exception in Tillmans’s oeuvre, in that it was modified on the computer to literally erase a real figure in the background. As the title indicates, the picture was taken on a ferry near the Baltic Sea port of Gedser, Denmark’s most important ferry harbor. “In 2004, I was still aware of how strange it really is to be standing on a ship and phoning without a wire,” the artist recalls. How much attention do we pay to our environment, everyday happenings, and our own actions? Tillmans reminds us of events and places in his own life, focusing on mundane behavior and sharpening our eye for things that have become a matter of course.
ANDERS (BRIGHTON ARCIMBOLDO), 2005
“Playfully put warm stones from Brighton beach on my friend’s face. Suddenly they seemed threatening, like growths, or monstrous.” On first sight, this portrait of Tillmans’s friend Anders looks definitely eerie. The face appears in profile with eyes closed while the projecting shoulder rests under the chin. The face is partly covered with roundish stones, which blend into the visage thanks to the picture’s strong black and white contrasts. There are no clues as to where or when the event took place. In addition to Anders’s name and the English resort town of Brighton, the title mentions Arcimboldo—a Mannerist painter who created unusual portraits and figures composed of fruits, vegetables, animals, or books, evoking associative imagery that shifted the border between reality and illusion, and deception and recognition. Tillmans’s photograph entered the Beyeler Collection in 2013, joining the line of compelling portraits by Paul Cézanne, Pablo Picasso, Alberto Giacometti, Andy Warhol, and Thomas Schütte, all of whom categorically shaped this genre in the 20th century.
OSTGUT FREISCHWIMMER, LEFT, 2004
The Freischwimmer works were produced in the darkroom without a camera. They form a unique group in Tillmans’s oeuvre. Renouncing the photo negative in favor of gestural operations, and using light as the sole “material” and “subject”, created poetic luminograms during the developing process. The viewer is tempted to associate these images with something real—streaks of paint, windblown sand dunes, hair in the water, sperm, etc.—or at least detect some allusion to reality. Yet rather than a depiction of an object, Tillmans is concerned with illusion. The borderline between real and “made” blurs, thus enriching photography with a painterly dimension.
The Concorde prints show a series of similar compositions wherein the aircraft of the same name is shown taking off from or returning to London Heathrow Airport. The plane is captured appearing and disappearing among trees, buildings, and traffic arteries. What started as a tiny speck on a runway, shoots as a dark shape over the horizon, only to elude our perception again a short time later as another tiny speck. Before the Concordes were decomissioned twenty years ago, Tillmans observed them with an astonished gaze and craned neck, looking towards the image from which the earsplitting noise of these supersonic aircraft was completely absent. The pictures on view here are the last seven of 64 featured in the artist’s book dedicated to the Concorde. Due to the depletion of the developing fluid during darkroom work, the images record how the colors gradually shifted towards a purplish fantasy world.
Wolfgang Tillmans was born in 1968 in Remscheid, Germany. His work as an artist began when he was aged 20 and living in Hamburg. At the start of the 1990s he studied at the Bournemouth and Poole College of Art and Design, England. From 1992 to 2007 he lived mainly in London, before relocating to Berlin. Tillmans’ work has earned recognition and been exhibited around the world since the early 1990s.
Katalog «Wolfgang Tillmans»
Leitfigur einer Generation: die große Werkübersicht In seinem künstlerischen Schaffen hat Wolfgang Tillmans (*1968 in Remscheid) das Medium der Fotografie in einer bisher nie gesehenen Weise revolutioniert und auf andere Medien hin geöffnet. Beginnend in den frühen 1990er-Jahren dokumentierte Tillmans in Szenen aus London, New York oder Berlin die Menschen und Situationen seines direkten Umfeldes und schuf so auf stilprägende Weise das Porträt einer neuen Generation. Seit den späten 1990er-Jahren fertigt Tillmans vermehrt kameralose, abstrakte Fotografien an, die aus einer direkten Arbeit mit und auf dem Fotopapier hervorgehen. Zum Teil erlangen diese Bilder einen skulpturalen, objekthaften Charakter. Auch im Ausstellungskontext entwickelte er neuartige, antihierarchische Installationsformen seiner Bilder im Raum. Anlässlich einer umfassenden Ausstellung von Tillmans’ Werk in der Basler Fondation Beyeler erscheint dieses Katalogbuch, welches seine Arbeiten in bisher nie gesehener Weise ordnet und gruppiert.
Veranstaltungen und Tipps
Open Studio: Wolfgang Tillmans
WOCHENENDE, 7. JULI BIS 13. AUGUST 2017 – Während der Sommerferien öffnet die Fondation Beyeler ihre Ateliers. Die vielfältigen Angebote orientieren sich an der aktuellen Ausstellung Wolfgang Tillmans.
Junges Atelier: Wolfgang Tillmans
MITTWOCH, 6. SEPTEMBER 2017 – In der Dunkelkammer. Analoge Fotografie nach Wolfgang Tillmans. Im Jungen Atelier habt Ihr die Möglichkeit, Kunst unter Gleichgesinnten kritisch zu betrachten und zu diskutieren, um dann selbst künstlerisch aktiv zu werden.
Artist Talk mit Wolfgang Tillmans
DONNERSTAG, 7. SEPTEMBER 2017 – Anlässlich seiner Ausstellung in der Fondation Beyeler spricht Wolfgang Tillmans über seine Werke.
«Fotografie wie ein grosser Soundtrack»
Schweiz am Wochenende
«Das Auge ist eine Venusfalle»
«Mit Rückgrat und einer Portion Punk»
Tages-Anzeiger und Der Bund
«Fühlen Sie das Sehen!»
«Alle Bilder wollen ja erst mal geliebt werden»
«Manche Bilder sind zu laut, denen muss man misstrauen»
The exhibition «Wolfgang Tillmans» is being supported by: