Wolfgang Tillmans Tate Modern Exhibition - Review and Thoughts

"This is Wolfgang Tillmans’s first ever exhibition at Tate Modern and brings together works in an exciting variety of media – photographs, of course, but also video, digital slide projections, publications, curatorial projects and recorded music – all staged by the artist in characteristically innovative style.

Alongside portraiture, landscape and intimate still lifes, Tillmans pushes the boundaries of the photographic form in abstract artworks that range from the sculptural to the immersive." - Tate Modern

My experience with Tillmans first Tate Modern exhibition, was that of initial confusion and disparity, considering the acclaim of the artist. It does not immediately present itself as a coherent visual collection, as it offers photography and found objects in a seemingly scattered disregard for narrative or considered sequencing. The shows offers every style of photography, personal and intimate portraiture, still life, abstracts, landscapes and war-zone documentary style images. Therefore, the consistency and story cannot be gauged from the style of the images themselves. It took a long time of walking around each of the 14 rooms, over and over, to understand what he was trying to achieve with this show.

What I engage with from this show is a celebration of and love for the photographic medium in all of its forms. By incorporating as many photographic styles as he has, it gives you the impression that it all sits on the same plane, with none being more important that the next. That although the techniques and skills may differ between them, they are all tied together under the creative medium of 'photographic process'.  This is most obvious in his 'printing mistake' pieces (below), where he has purposely monochromatically exposed photographic paper through a dirty photo-developing machine, where the paper collected particles and residue from the rollers and liquids. This in essence makes them a 'documentary image' as a record of the chemical and mechanical process from which they originate.


Other images in the show are very simple, with a perceived uninteresting subject, thus the way they are photographed is what makes it interesting. Images like these, exist as an effective example of what successful photography can be, particularly when you consider the complicated technological world we live in today. It is interesting to realise that this celebrates photography as a medium, as this can be an engaging piece of work without having to use any of the advanced technology available to the modern artist. To me this show really harks back to painterly qualities, with a focus on shape, form, line and abstraction. 


If you are interested in a very different photography exhibition which truly does not follow the standards of photographic exhibitions, then this show is an exciting, refreshing experience, which takes you on a journey through the mind of Tillmans. A mind which is impulsive and erratic, yet absolutely considerate of his art and where it sits alongside the broader scope of all creative practices. However don't come to the show expecting to immediately understand the collection and curation decisions, it is not an 'easy' visit, you are expected to think as you walk through the 14 rooms if you are going to gain anything from your time inside. 

The show is on at the Tate Modern until 11 June 2017.