Wolfgang Tillmans 2017 – Tate Modern

Being a long standing admirer of Tillmans’ work I was keen to make the trip to London to see his exhibition at the Tate Modern.  Comprising 14 themed rooms of his work to date, the exhibition flyer/booklet stresses that this is not just a retrospective, however.


On entering the exhibition it soon becomes apparent why.  Each room is more of a themed installation than just gallery space.

One room may house images on the theme of ‘travel’, juxtaposing huge closeup abstract views of a car headlamp with scenes of remote corners of Africa, for example. Tillmans draws the observation that the car headlamps ‘are more angular now, giving them a more predatory appearance’, drawing parallels with human eyes and hinting at them reflecting a more aggressive rather than ‘wide eyed innocent’ world we now live in.

Another room, based upon his work Truth Study Center (2005 onwards), is ingeniously laid out on trestles rather than just the walls.  The subject matter highlights the difficulties separating fact from fiction in the modern world of photography, politics  and media – all the more poignant in the current era of ‘fake news’.  The trestles form a sort of maze through the room, getting in the way of our clear path through.  It is hard to see every table without going back on yourself at least once.

Other rooms explore issues of gender and sexuality, the environment and other topics.  One contains his books and posters laid out for perusing, evoking a feeling of visiting the photobook sale at the Format Photography Festival – except here of course there was only one exhibitor.

Further underlining the intention that this is a series of installations rather than just photographs, one room is empty apart from seats and a high quality hifi system.  Playing a small selection of tracks from Colourbox, Tillmans also wants us to take time out to appreciate this art form as the artist intended, not on a squarky little mobile phone speaker or headphones.

Tillmans continues to inspire for his ability to see everyday things in a way that reveal so much about the people around it.  There’s s strong political and environmental narrative in much of his work but this is done while still leaving the viewer space to reflect and think (the exception being the EU Referendum posters perhaps which leave no space for ambiguity!).

Footnote: I was disappointed to note that, shortly after my visit I saw that an OCA study visit has been set up for the same exhibition, led by my current tutor.  If only I’d waited a week!  If I can arrange to go, it would be interesting to visit again with my tutor and fellow students to see how their perception of the exhibition compares with my own.

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