Whitehot Magazine

May 2008, Wolfgang Tillmans - LIGHTER

Wolfgang Tillmans is one of Germany’s most famous art exports. Winner of the coveted Turner Prize in 2000, Tillmans’ work has become synonymous with images of 1990s counterculture - cocks, cops, crash pads, subways, and a brave and stained new glamour. His challenging and intimate works have long been at the centre of discussions about the development and direction of photography in the new millennium, so its no surprise that in his new exhibition LIGHTER, Tillmans is once again challenging notions of fame, value, and how his work is categorized.

The largest collection of Tillmans’ work ever seen in Germany, LIGHTER was a dynamic and eclectic collection of over 200 images from the 1980s to the present. Iconic works such as AA Breakfast, 1995 – in which a faceless man pulls out his penis during a lacklustre airline breakfast - are coupled with more recent works that experiment with the delicate effects of light on illuminated paper. Enormous in scale and muted in colour, his new series of abstract works focuses on photography as a tool for sculpting light and colour rather than as a tool of representation, recalling the casually beautiful color-field paintings of Rothko or Newman.

Arranged with a kind of deliberate informality, the contrasting images within LIGHTER create a dynamic collision of mood, color and caste. Framed portraits hang regally alongside tacked and taped-up snapshots, leaving the viewer to ponder the hierarchy of the images and their varying worth as personal, artistic and financial objects. Expanding on these ideas of truth, essence, and value, Tillmans offers up the TRUTH STUDY CENTER as the exhibition’s dynamic centrepiece. A series of ‘theme tables’ featuring collected images from newspapers, magazines, how-to manuals and cardboard boxes assembled in a kind of workshop/library environment, TRUTH STUDY CENTER encourages viewers to consider topical themes such as racism, religion and terrorism.

Tension between spaces and images is a strong theme in Tillmans’s work, and LIGHTER is no exception. Despite a more visible contrast between his pop culture images of the 1990s and the deliciously palpable works of the abstract Lighter series, the exhibition possesses the same aesthetic dynamism and historical malleability that has made Tillmans’s photographs such a critical and popular success.

Adele Smith

Adele Smith is a writer from Australia currently residing in Berlin.

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