Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017 at Tate Modern
Wolfgang Tillmans’s new show at Tate Modern is as much a large-scale installation as it is a traditional museum exhibition. The many photographs on the walls of the event’s 14 rooms are curated by the artist himself, shunning conventions of chronology and theme in favour of configurations that constitute Tillmans’s “personal response to the present moment”.
The resulting experience is one of intensity and beauty, but which lacks a strong sense of narrative or direction. This is perhaps inevitable when art is so firmly rooted in the present, and it is this sense of immediacy that is also one of the show’s greatest strengths. This is something that is highlighted by the fact that most of the photographs on display are not glazed or even framed, but are hung on the walls from bulldog clips, heightening the sense that there is little mediation between viewer and image.
Tillmans raises pertinent questions about the pace of technological change and developments in photographic reproduction. For example, in CLC 800, dismantled, the artist has photographed his old colour photocopier with all the screws removed; an expensive piece of equipment when it was bought in 2003, by 2011 its technology was defunct. For Tillmans, photography is both part of this technological evolution and a means for documenting it.
First and foremost, Tillmans is a photographer, and the most notable points of the exhibition are where he asks questions about his art form. His evocations of issues such as cultural acceptance, Brexit or recorded music fall a little flat, perhaps because of a lack of context. His work shines, however, when he is pushing photography to the limits.
He offers images that are unashamedly rooted in his own personal point of view and both the works themselves and their installation points to an almost self-centred perspective. This serves effectively to point to the inherently subjective nature of all photography, subverting the documentary qualities many associate it with.
Idiosyncratic and visually stunning, Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017 is a thought-provoking exhibition that delves into the position of photography and the artist in the current cultural climate, but which fails to direct the viewer effectively towards the wider questions it raises.
Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017 is at Tate Modern from 15th February until 11th June 2017, for further information or to book visit here.