Serpentine Gallery, Kensington Gardens, London, W2 3XA

  • 2004 Anders pulling splinte  Press Image
    Title : 2004 Anders pulling splinte Press Image
  • 2004 Ostgut Freischwimmer, Press Image
    Title : 2004 Ostgut Freischwimmer, Press Image
  • 2009 103 Eierstapel Press image
    Title : 2009 103 Eierstapel Press image
  • 2009 Heptathlon  Press Image
    Title : 2009 Heptathlon Press Image
  • 2009 Nanbei Hu  Press Image
    Title : 2009 Nanbei Hu Press Image
  • DSC 1620 Press Image
    Title : DSC 1620 Press Image
  • DSC 1657 Press Image
    Title : DSC 1657 Press Image
  • DSC 1731 Press Image
    Title : DSC 1731 Press Image
  • Dan press image
    Title : Dan press image
  • IMG 7057  Press Image
    Title : IMG 7057 Press Image
  • Inflight Astro (ii) Press image
    Title : Inflight Astro (ii) Press image
  • Muqarnas Press image
    Title : Muqarnas Press image
  • gedser  Press Image
    Title : gedser Press Image
  • paper drop (Roma) Press image
    Title : paper drop (Roma) Press image

Review by Emma Crawley

In the early 1990s Wolfgang Tillmans became renowned for his frank, intimate and often sexual portraits of his young friends, providing an open look at life as he knew it. Tillmans may still be associated with these honest and powerful images; however, as the current exhibition at the Serpentine proves, in his work of the last ten years he has explored other equally powerful avenues, frequently leaning towards abstraction.

Inside the first room of the exhibition the photographs seemingly portray ‘every day’ objects or events; a mother and baby in their car, an aerial view of industrial wasteland, and cardboard trays of eggs piled one on top of the other. Far from representing mundane routines and normalities, these purposefully abstract compositions make for striking artworks. Viewed from a distance, the inside of a humble photocopier appears as something beautiful; the beams of light reflect off the glass and become a brilliant sunrise. Similarly, the aforementioned trays of eggs take on the form of an architectural structure, tower block-like in stature. In his depiction of curved and rolled up pieces of paper, Tillmans takes this sense of abstraction even further, depicting strong, dark, geometric shapes against bright white backgrounds.

The Serpentine exhibition reveals Tillmans’ skill for pushing the medium of photography to its limits. His works are not simple ‘photographs’; they appear sculptural and in many cases possess the tactile quality of textile pieces. He places some of his images inside plexiglass boxes; they curl away from the wall along their bottom edge, yet remain contained inside cubic cages. In another room hang four sizeable, arresting and dream like ‘photographs’ in which flecks of ink swirl upon a watery surface, suggesting long grasses blowing in the wind, or a sinuous bodily fluid like blood, swirling inside the anatomical system.

The display of Tillmans’ photography throughout this exhibition creates a highly personal atmosphere; much of the artist’s work is pinned and sellotaped to each surface, rendering the gallery walls his own public corkboard. The show has been conceived by the artist himself, specifically for the Serpentine. In three display cases, he presents non-photographic exhibits, in which various pieces of memorabilia such as airline tickets, food wrappers and newspaper cuttings can be seen, perhaps reflecting the inspiration behind many of his photographic pieces.

Towards the end of the exhibition, a suggestive photograph in which the camera has been angled up the skirt of a pant-less Scotsman provides a sense of tongue-in-cheek humour, and refers back to Tillmans’ early photography. However, there are clearly no boundaries set upon what, who or how Tillmans will photograph. This is a man who literally sees the world through the camera lens, constantly challenging and critiquing the processes of photography. Tillmans is a true artist, finding the playful in the everyday, and rendering creative anything that he chooses to portray.

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