Posts Tagged ‘the world

20
Feb
22

Exhibition: ‘Man Ray: The Paris Years’ at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, Virginia

Exhibition dates: 30th October 2021 – 20th February 2022

Curator: Dr. Michael Taylor, VMFA’s Chief Curator and Deputy Director for Art and Education

 

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Self-Portrait with Camera' 1930

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Self-Portrait with Camera
1930
Solarised gelatin silver print
The Jewish Museum, New York, Photography Acquisitions Committee Fund, Horace W. Goldsmith Fund, and Judith and Jack Stern Gift
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

 

I remember many many years ago (2004) the National Gallery of Victoria held a major exhibition of the work of Man Ray, the first large-scale exhibition of Man Ray’s photography to have been presented in Australia. The exhibition was organised by the Art Gallery of New South Wales where it set an attendance record for photography exhibitions, with over 52,000 visitors, before travelling to Brisbane and Melbourne – which exhibitions did in those days between state capitals, alas no longer.

All these years later I still remember being impressed by the technical, almost scientific element – and elemental – aspect of Man Ray’s photography, the sheer intensity of his images, and their small, jewel-like size. I was less impressed by the lack of feeling the photographs gave me, as though the photographs were scientific experiments which emphasised “his techniques of framing, cropping, solarising and use of the photogram in order to present a new, ‘surreal’ way of seeing” and which, to my young photographic eyes, saw their lush and enigmatic beauty subsumed in an unemotional technical exercise.

Concentrating on his portrait photographs during his Paris years, this exhibition includes more than 100 portrait photographs made by the artist in Paris between 1921 and 1940. “In choosing portraits for the exhibit, the curator’s objective was to present the complete picture of Man Ray’s pantheon of cultural luminaries… “Since this exhibition is all about storytelling, we wanted to highlight the femme moderne and tell the public of their fierce individuality and creativity,” [Michael] Taylor says, explaining that the women’s inclusion makes for a more dynamic and meaningful exhibition. “These are musicians, models and performers whose contributions have been marginalized due to the legacy of colonialism and racism.” … The portraits chosen for “Man Ray: the Paris Years” reflect not only the staggering range of techniques Ray employed during his Parisian years, but also the fascinating people who inhabited his world. “Innovative, groundbreaking, experimental and completely original, Ray’s portraits are unlike the work of any of his contemporaries,” Taylor says.”1

But to my mind Man Ray’s other photography during this period, such as his 1922 album Champs Délicieux which contained 12 Dada inspired Rayographs (some of his first), his surreal photographic solarisations and his portfolio, Électricité (Electricity) (1931) are more expressive and revolutionary avant-garde statements of the creative power of photography than ever his portraits are.

And while his portrait photographs may be experimental and groundbreaking – all about technique – are they good portraits? That’s the key question. To my eyes his portraits have a “lumpy” quality to them, a kind of enigmatic blankness that never reveals much of the sitters personality. The doll-like beauty of Kiki de Montparnasse (c. 1924, below) becomes a later abstract wistfulness both photographs revealing nothing; a tough, shielded Gertrude Stein (at Home) (1922, below) is not a patch on Imogen Cunningham’s engaging, challenging portrait of 1934; and the portrait of Elsie Houston (1933, below) is just plain uncomfortable in its placement of the bandaged head and hand in the pictorial frame.

Apparently, Man Ray “was in league with the surrealists and, in even his most classical-seeming portraits, revealed a predilection for unexpected juxtapositions, visual rhymes and piercing expressions that can transport you instantaneously to the lip of a volcanic unconscious.” Allegedly.

A volcanic unconscious. Who writes this stuff? I often feel I am looking at different photographs than the ones other people are writing about. Again, “Man Ray’s photography doesn’t simply capture the image of a person, or the ghost that inhabits them. It captures the whole of creative expression – the surreal and sorrowful, the conflict and music, the desperation and freedom that comprise the human narrative.” No it doesn’t… I don’t even think he is a very good portrait photographer! Compared to a Weston, Sander or Lange, a Stieglitz, Arbus or Julia Margaret Cameron, Man Ray’s portraits are modestly proficient evocations at best.

“To be ‘done’ by Man Ray and Berenice Abbott meant that you rated as somebody,” wrote Sylvia Beach, owner of Shakespeare and Company, the legendary bookstore and lending library established in Paris after World War I by the American expatriate. You had made it… immortalised in the negative, promoted in the positive. There is the key. To be worthy, to be “fashion” able. After all, Man Ray was running a commercial photographic studio with Berenice Abbott as his assistant in order to make a living. After Man Ray fired her in 1926 Abbott set up her own studio and they became business rivals.

The two most enticing portrait photographs in the posting are both wistful visages of the female: the slightly out of focus, low depth of field beauty of the direct Lee Miller, an ex-lover of Man Ray, staring down the desiring male gaze, like the most glamorous and scientifically symmetrically perfect “mug shot” you have ever seen; and the soft sfumato (which translated literally from Italian means “vanished or evaporated”) background to the contemporary Mona Lisa that is the vulnerable, tender Berenice Abbott surrounded by vanished shadows and evaporated space. “Leonardo has studied the sky, the elements, the atmosphere, and the light. He takes the approach of a scientist, but translates it into the painting with superb delicacy and finesse. For him the painting doesn’t count. What counts is the knowledge,” observes Louvre Curator Jean-Pierre Cuzin.2

Science, knowledge and atmosphere. Only in this portrait of Berenice Abbott does Man Ray take his love of science and knowledge and approach what Preston Duncan observes: “It is through this aperture that we find the abiding sense that, in all the weight, the struggle, the limitations of our physical form, is an ongoing moment of release.”

A final thought emerges in my consciousness. I wondered whether there is a photograph of Man Ray by Berenice Abbott? Not that I can find…

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

  1. Karen Newton. “Storytelling Portraits,” on the Style Weekly website August 31, 2021 [Online] Cited 20/02/2022
  2. Anonymous text. “…Leonardo’s masterful technique,” on the PBS Treasures of the World website [Online] Cited 20/02/2022

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Many thankx to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“The story of Man Ray and Paris has been told, but it’s usually been told through the lens – pardon the pun, it’s a photography show – of Man Ray’s innovations; the Rayograph, Solarization, his friendships, and his network. But what about the subjects?” says Chief Curator, Dr. Michael Taylor. “We took inspiration from the photograph on the cover of this show. It’s the first work you see in the exhibition. This is actually Man Ray taking your portrait. In other words, […] even though it’s called a self-portrait, a camera is photographing him, but he is looking at you with his camera. So we started to think about not just telling Man Ray’s story, which is fascinating, but the story of the sitters, the subjects, the models. …

While the primary focus of the exhibit is on portraiture and the radical expressiveness of his subjects – from the vanguards of femme moderne culture to aerialists in drag – there are some detours into avant-garde Rayography and cinema. This diversity of expression is resonant with Man Ray’s professional dedication to dismantling boundaries – those of gender, race, and national identity, as well as artistic traditionalism and aesthetic philosophy. …

Man Ray’s photography doesn’t simply capture the image of a person, or the ghost that inhabits them. It captures the whole of creative expression – the surreal and sorrowful, the conflict and music, the desperation and freedom that comprise the human narrative. It is through this aperture that we find the abiding sense that, in all the weight, the struggle, the limitations of our physical form, is an ongoing moment of release. It confronts us with the fact we are all winging this strange dance, contributing our solitary note to an overture that is entirely improvised, sharing in the simple hope that we may, for an instant, hear the enormity of the score.”

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Preston Duncan. “The View From Paris,” on the RVA website November 3, 2021 [Online] Cited 02/02/2022

 

All the men of the age are there: Igor Stravinsky, James Joyce, Andre Breton, Picasso and Braque. Equally present are the era’s modern women, including Bernice Abbott, the rarely-as-well-photographed Gertrude Stein, Lee Miller and Virginia Woolf. The real stars, however, are the unknowns. Or rather, those unknown-to-us. “Man Ray used photography to challenge the artistic traditions and break boundaries, including fixed gender roles and racial barriers,” says Michael Taylor, the museum’s chief curator, who conceived the exhibition.

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Daniel Cassady. “‘Paris’s glowing milieu spills onto every corner’: Virginia show theatrically tells the story of Man Ray’s fruitful time in the City of Lights,” on The Art Newspaper website 11 November 2021 [Online] Cited 03/02/2022

 

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Kiki de Montparnasse' c. 1924

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Kiki de Montparnasse
c. 1924
Gelatin silver print
Francis M. Naumann Fine Art, New York
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Kiki de Montparnasse' c. 1929

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Kiki de Montparnasse
c. 1929
Gelatin silver print
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

 

Alice Ernestine Prin (French, 1901-1953)

Alice Ernestine Prin (2 October 1901 – 29 April 1953), nicknamed the Queen of Montparnasse, and often known as Kiki de Montparnasse, was a French artist’s model, literary muse, nightclub singer, actress, memoirist and painter. She flourished in, and helped define, the liberated culture of Paris in the 1920s.

Alice Prin was born in Châtillon-sur-Seine, Côte d’Or. An illegitimate child, she was raised in abject poverty by her grandmother. At age twelve, she was sent to live with her mother in Paris in order to find work. She first worked in shops and bakeries, but by the age of fourteen, she was posing nude for sculptors, which created discord with her mother.

Adopting a single name, “Kiki”, she became a fixture in the Montparnasse social scene and a popular artist’s model, posing for dozens of artists, including Sanyu, Chaïm Soutine, Julian Mandel, Tsuguharu Foujita, Constant Detré, Francis Picabia, Jean Cocteau, Arno Breker, Alexander Calder, Per Krohg, Hermine David, Pablo Gargallo, Mayo, and Tono Salazar. Moïse Kisling painted a portrait of Kiki titled Nu assis, one of his best known.

Her companion for most of the 1920s was Man Ray, who made hundreds of portraits of her. She can be considered his muse at the time and the subject of some of his best-known images, including the surrealist image Le violon d’Ingres and Noire et blanche (see below).

She appeared in nine short and frequently experimental films, including Fernand Léger’s Ballet mécanique without any credit.

A painter in her own right, in 1927 Prin had a sold-out exhibition of her paintings at the Galerie au Sacre du Printemps in Paris. Signing her work with her chosen single name, Kiki, she usually noted the year. Her drawings and paintings comprise portraits, self-portraits, social activities, fanciful animals, and dreamy landscapes composed in a light, slightly uneven, expressionist style that is a reflection of her easy-going manner and boundless optimism. …

A symbol of bohemian and creative Paris and of the possibility of being a woman and finding an artistic place, at the age of twenty-eight she was declared the Queen of Montparnasse. Even during difficult times, she maintained her positive attitude, saying “all I need is an onion, a bit of bread, and a bottle of red [wine]; and I will always find somebody to offer me that.”

She left Paris to avoid the occupying German army during World War II, which entered the city in June 1940. …

Prin died in 1953 after collapsing outside her flat in Montparnasse, at the age of fifty-one, apparently of complications of alcoholism or drug dependence. A large crowd of artists and fans attended her Paris funeral and followed the procession to her interment in the Cimetière parisien de Thiais. Her tomb identifies her as “Kiki, 1901-1953, singer, actress, painter, Queen of Montparnasse.” Tsuguharu Foujita has said that, with Kiki, the glorious days of Montparnasse were buried forever.

Long after her death, Prin remains the embodiment of the outspokenness, audacity, and creativity that marked that period of life in Montparnasse. She represents a strong artistic force in her own right as a woman. In 1989, biographers Billy Klüver and Julie Martin called her “one of the century’s first truly independent women.” In her honour, a daylily has been named Kiki de Montparnasse.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Man Ray. 'Noire et Blanche' 1926

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Noire et Blanche
1926
Gelatin silver print
6 7/8 x 8¼ in. (17.5 x 21cm)
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

As far as I know this photograph is NOT in the exhibition

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Gertrude Stein (at Home)' 1922

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Gertrude Stein (at Home)
1922
Gelatin silver print
7 15/16”H × 6 1/16”W (20.16 × 15.4cm)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Gertrude Stein, Writer' 1934

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Gertrude Stein, Writer
1934
Gelatin silver print
Image: 7 9/16 × 6 11/16 in.
Frame: 22 5/8 x 16 5/8 x 1 3/8 in.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Berenice Abbott' 1921, printed later

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Berenice Abbott
1921, printed later
Gelatin silver print
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

 

In 1926 Peggy Guggenheim, who often lent her financial support to the Paris colony of artists and writers, telephoned Man Ray to arrange a studio appointment to have her portrait taken, not by Man Ray himself, but by Berenice. Afterwards Man Ray was livid, he now realised that Berenice had become a serious business rival, and the next day he fired her. Berenice immediately made plans to have a studio of her own and friends of Berenice stepped forward to help her. When she made arrangements to purchase a view camera – Peggy Guggenheim lent her the money to pay for it. As partial repayment, Berenice later photographed Peggy’s children. In 1926, she had her first solo exhibition (in the gallery “Au Sacre du Printemps”) and started her own studio on the rue du Bac.

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Wallis Simpson with Chinese Sculpture' 1936

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Wallis Simpson with Chinese Sculpture
1936
Gelatin silver print
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

Photographed during the year in which her liaison with Edward VIII became public and he abdicated the throne of the British Empire.

 

 

The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts announces its upcoming exhibition, Man Ray: The Paris Years, on view in Richmond from October 30, 2021, through February 21, 2022. Organised by Dr. Michael Taylor, VMFA’s Chief Curator and Deputy Director for Art and Education, the exhibition includes more than 100 compelling portrait photographs made by the artist in Paris between 1921 and 1940, featuring cultural luminaries such as Barbette, André Breton, Jean Cocteau, Marcel Duchamp, Ernest Hemingway, Miriam Hopkins, James Joyce, Henri Matisse, Méret Oppenheim, Alice Prin (Kiki de Montparnasse), Elsa Schiaparelli, Erik Satie, Wallis Simpson and Gertrude Stein.

The son of Russian-Jewish immigrants, Emmanuel “Manny” Radnitzky grew up in New York and adopted the pseudonym Man Ray around 1912. A timely sale of paintings to Ferdinand Howald, an art collector from Columbus, Ohio, provided Man Ray with funds for a trip to Paris, and he arrived in the French capital on July 22, 1921. Although the artist worked in a variety of media over the next two decades, including assemblage, film, sculpture and painting, photography would be his primary means of artistic expression in Paris.

Shortly after moving to France, Man Ray embarked on a sustained campaign to document the international avant-garde in a series of remarkable portraits that established his reputation as one of the leading photographers of his era. Man Ray’s portraits often reflect a dialogue or negotiation between the artist’s vision and the self-fashioning of his subjects. Whether they had their portrait taken to promote their work, affirm their self-image, project their desires, fulfil their dreams or create a new identity, Man Ray’s sitters were not inanimate objects, like blocks of marble to be shaped and coerced, but were instead highly creative cultural and thought leaders who were active participants in the creative act. By telling the stories of his respective sitters and the innovative techniques he used to create their portraits, Man Ray: The Paris Years empowers the subjects portrayed in these photographs and gives them an agency and voice that is not typically realised in monographic accounts of modern artists.

“Timed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the artist’s arrival in the French capital and, coincidentally, the near-centennial anniversary of the Spanish flu pandemic, Man Ray: The Paris Years will prove to be a visually provocative and especially relevant exhibition,” said Alex Nyerges, VMFA’s Director and CEO. “This is an opportunity to better understand the lives of his subjects and see Man Ray in a different light.”

“Man Ray used photography to challenge artistic traditions and break boundaries, including fixed gender roles and racial barriers,” said Taylor. “His portraits went beyond recording the mere outward appearance of the person depicted and aimed instead to capture the essence of his sitters as creative individuals, as well as the collective nature and character of Les Années folles (the crazy years) of Paris between the two world wars.”

Man Ray’s radical portraits also capture an important constituency of the avant-garde at this time, namely the femme moderne (modern woman). Adventurous, ambitious, assertive, daring, enterprising and self-assured modern women like American photographers Berenice Abbott and Lee Miller, French artist Suzanne Duchamp and American sculptor Janet Scudder took full advantage of their unprecedented freedom and access to educational and professional opportunities to participate as equals to their male counterparts in the Parisian avant-garde. Although these women came from different classes and economic backgrounds, they shared a collective goal in the 1920s and 1930s to be creatively, financially and intellectually independent.

“Rejecting traditional gender roles and expectations, modern women were interested in erasing sexual differences,” said Taylor. “They often embraced the symbolic trappings and autonomy of their male counterparts including wearing men’s clothes, driving fast cars, smoking cigarettes and sporting tightly cropped ‘bobbed’ haircuts.”

The exhibition also tells the important stories of Black subjects such as Henry Crowder, Adrienne Fidelin and Ruby Richards, whose contributions have often been unfairly relegated to the margins of modernism due to the legacy of colonialism and racism. The artist’s series of portraits of the dancer and singer Ruby Richards, who was born in St. Kitts in the British West Indies and grew up in Harlem, New York, brings to light an important performer whose work with Man Ray has never been acknowledged in previous accounts of his work. Richards moved to Paris in 1938 to replace the legendary African American performer Josephine Baker as the star attraction at the Folies Bergère, and the famous cabaret music hall commissioned Man Ray to help introduce her to French audiences through his portrait photographs.

Many of the subjects portrayed in Man Ray’s photographs were born in Spanish-speaking countries such as Argentina, El Salvador, Peru and Spain, including famous modern artists like Salvador Dalí and Pablo Picasso, as well as the flamenco dancer Prou del Pilar and the pianist Ricardo Viñes. As a state art museum that has free general admission and is open 365 days a year, VMFA is committed to representing the cultural and linguistic diversity of our community. According to recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 7 percent of Virginia’s 8.5 million residents speak Spanish at home. This data has informed the museum’s decision to incorporate dual-language labels throughout the Man Ray: The Paris Years exhibition, as well as the audio tour and gallery guide. Recognising that English is not the native language of everyone who visits the exhibition, VMFA is offering content in both Spanish and English to create a more accessible, inclusive and welcoming experience for all of our visitors.

Informed by extensive archival research, this exhibition and accompanying catalogue offers a more complete account of Man Ray’s Paris years by focusing not just on his achievement as a photographer and his superb gifts as a portraitist, but also on the friendships and exchange of ideas that took place between the artist and his subjects in Paris between the two world wars.

Press release from VMFA

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Nusch Éluard and Sonia Mossé' 1937

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Nusch Éluard and Sonia Mossé
1937
Gelatin silver print
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

 

Mossé was a surrealist artist and performer in a lesbian cabaret.

 

Ray’s double portraits are among his most spellbinding. Two feature Nusch Éluard, the actress, acrobat and hypnotist’s assistant who married the surrealist poet Paul Éluard. One shows Nusch with the openly bisexual actress, singer, surrealist and model Sonia Mossé. Taken in 1937, the photograph trembles with the intimacy and uncanniness of the culminating scenes in Ingmar Bergman’s “Persona,” where the face of Bibi Andersson begins to merge with that of Liv Ullmann. …

To try to square Man Ray’s magical, tender double portrait with Mossé’s subsequent life, as sketched in by Taylor in the catalogue, is to feel the 20th century – stretched to breaking point by the contrary forces of personal liberation and vicious repression – suddenly snap, like the shutter of a camera taking a photograph no one can bear to look at.

Mossé, writes Taylor, was romantically involved with the French dramatist Antonin Artaud. Best known for conceptualising the Theater of Cruelty movement, Artaud had tried to break off their relationship in 1939 “via handwritten malediction” (a letter in which he wrote curses – e.g., “You will live dead” – in an envelope containing drawings and burned holes).

But Mossé would never receive it. War had broken out. And on Feb. 11, 1943, Mossé and her stepsister Esther were denounced as Jews to the Gestapo. They were taken to the Drancy internment camp in a northeastern suburb of Paris and then to the Sobibór extermination camp in occupied Poland, where Mossé was murdered in a gas chamber.

Sebastian Smee. “Glamour, gossip, sex, scandal: Man Ray’s portraits captured Paris between the wars,” on The Washington Post website November 9, 2021 [Online] Cited 03/02/2022

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Igor Stravinsky' 1925

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Igor Stravinsky
1925
Gelatin silver print
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Picasso in His Studio on the rue de La Boëtie, Paris' 1922

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Picasso in His Studio on the rue de La Boëtie, Paris
1922
Gelatin silver print
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

 

The American Surrealist Man Ray made a number of portraits of Picasso over the years, beginning with this photograph that appeared in the July 1922 issue of Vanity Fair. It was taken on the second floor of Picasso’s apartment at 23 rue de La Boëtie in Paris, where he established a studio in November 1918 and completed many of the Cubist paintings that form the background of this portrait. Man Ray’s portrait brilliantly captures both sides of Picasso’s personality at this time, since the proud and successful artist is also shown to be emotionally distant and seemingly uncomfortable with his newfound wealth and fame.

Text from the Philadelphia Museum of Art website

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Constantin Brancusi' 1925

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Constantin Brancusi
1925
Gelatin silver print
9 1/4 x 10 1/4″ (23.5 x 26cm)
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Ruby Richards with Feathers' 1938

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Ruby Richards with Feathers (installation view)
1938
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Ruby Richards (aka The Black Pearl) was a singer and dancer born in Saint Christopher Island (Saint Kitts) in the West Indies.

In 1938 the dancer and singer moved to Paris to replace Josephine Baker as the star attraction at the Folies Bergère. The famous cabaret music hall commissioned Man Ray to help introduce Richards to French audiences through his innovative portrait photographs.

 

 

Louis Jordan Soundie: Fuzzy Wuzzy

Featuring Louis Jordan and His Tympany Band with dancer Ruby Richards (recorded on New Year’s Eve 1942).

 

Man Ray. 'Ruby Richards' 1938

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Ruby Richards (installation view)
1938
Gelatin silver print

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Ruby Richards with Diamonds' c. 1938

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Ruby Richards with Diamonds
c. 1938
Gelatin silver print
Collection of Michael and Jacky Ferro, Miami
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021)

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Self-Portrait With Adrienne Fidelin' 1937

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Self-Portrait With Adrienne Fidelin
1937
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society, New York/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

 

He called her his “little black sun.” Born in Guadeloupe, Adrienne Fidelin was the American artist’s partner in Paris before World War II tore them apart. She appears in almost 400 of the renowned artist’s photographs, and in 1937 became the first Black model to be featured in a leading U.S. fashion magazine. However, she was pushed to the sidelines of history. …

Man Ray himself only mentions Fidelin fleetingly in his autobiography. This marginalisation continues today, despite current efforts to recognise the stories of people of colour throughout history…

Adrienne Fidelin was born on March 4, 1915, in Pointe-à-Pitre. At the age of 13, she lost her mother in a hurricane that devastated Guadeloupe, and her father died a few years later. The orphaned teenager joined other members of her family living in Paris in the early 1930s. At the time, the French capital was under the thrall of the Colonial Exposition and obsessed with France’s far-flung colonies. At the Bal Blomet, a cabaret in the 15th arrondissement, the West Indian diaspora and the artistic avant-garde partied to the sounds of Creole biguine music, and Fidelin joined a Guadeloupean dance company.

This is most likely where she and Man Ray first set eyes on each other. She was 19, he was 44. In a diary entry dated December 29, 1934, the artist simply wrote “Ady.” Wendy Grossman discovered this valuable evidence of their first meeting in the Man Ray archives at the Getty Center in Los Angeles. The following year, he wrote down her number (“Odéon 79-95”) and photographed her wearing a simple white tank top. The artist and the dancer were inseparable. On May 13, 1937, Man Ray combined their names in a tender Surrealist pairing, writing “Manady” and “Adyman” in his diary. …

On September 15, 1937, a full-page portrait photo of Fidelin taken by Man Ray was published in the U.S. magazine Harper’s Bazaar – a first in segregated America. However, captured “wearing a tiger-tooth necklace, an ivory arm bracelet, and a Belgian Congo headdress, and adopting a seductive pose, Fidelin was presumed to represent the sensual African ‘native’ identified in the article’s title,” writes Wendy Grossman. “The article shows how the Surrealist movement exoticised ‘the other.'”

Man Ray found a partner in Fidelin, but their relationship was asymmetrical. “She stops me from sinking into pessimism,” he wrote. “She does everything: shining my shoes, making me breakfast, and painting the backdrops on my large canvases.” Fidelin also danced in the “negro clubs” on the Champs-Elysées and worked with photographers and directors looking for “exotic girls.” …

The couple was torn apart when the Wehrmacht entered Paris in June 1940. After trying – and failing – to flee to the Côte d’Azur together, Man Ray returned to the United States alone. The lovers continued writing each other for a few months, but the war severely impacted the postal service and Man Ray soon fell in love with another dancer in Hollywood. Fidelin remained in Paris, married another man in 1957, and died in a retirement home a few miles outside Albi in Southern France [February 5, 2004].

Clément Thiery. “Adrienne Fidelin, Man Ray’s Forgotten Muse,” on the Fance-Amérique website February 2, 2022 [Online] Cited 03/02/2022

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Adrienne Fidelin with washboard' 1937

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Adrienne Fidelin with washboard
1937
Gelatin silver print
29.8 x 23cm
Collection Musée Picasso
© Man Ray 2015 Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

As far as I know this photograph is NOT in the exhibition

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'James Joyce' 1922

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
James Joyce
1922
Gelatin silver print
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'James Joyce' (portrait for "Ulysses") 1922

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
James Joyce (portrait for “Ulysses”)
1922
Gelatin silver print
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

 

If, in the early 1920s, you happened to walk into Shakespeare and Company, the legendary bookstore and lending library established in Paris after World War I by the American expatriate Sylvia Beach, you would have noticed that the walls were covered with photographic portraits by Man Ray and Berenice Abbott.

“To be ‘done’ by Man Ray and Berenice Abbott meant that you rated as somebody,” wrote Beach. The habitues of Shakespeare and Company famously included such somebodies as Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Djuna Barnes, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Hilda Doolittle and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

In 1922, Beach commissioned Ray (1890-1976) to make a publicity photograph of James Joyce, the Irish novelist whose book “Ulysses” she was about to publish (to her everlasting glory). That same year, Ray photographed Marcel Proust on his deathbed (below).

Sebastian Smee. “Glamour, gossip, sex, scandal: Man Ray’s portraits captured Paris between the wars,” on The Washington Post website November 9, 2021 [Online] Cited 03/02/2022

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Marcel Proust on His Deathbed' 1922

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Marcel Proust on His Deathbed
1922
Gelatin silver print
Mark Kelman, New York
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

 

“It comes so soon, the moment when there is nothing left to wait for.” ~ Marcel Proust

 

Ravaged by bronchitis and pneumonia, Marcel Proust spent the last night of his life dictating manuscript changes for a section of his famous novel Remembrance of Things Past.

Man Ray did not know Proust, but he had become such an important photographer that mutual friends dispatched him to the celebrated French author’s bedside to make a final portrait two days after his death. The side view associates Man Ray’s photograph with a tradition of postmortem photography dating back to the inception of the medium.

Text from the J. Paul Getty Museum website

 

At the urging of his friend Jean Cocteau, Man Ray rushed to photograph the author of Remembrance of Things Past on his deathbed. In the October / November issue of Les Nouvelles Littéraires, Cocteau wrote:

Those who have seen this profile of calm, of order, of plenitude, will never forget the spectacle of an unbelievable recording device come to a stop, becoming an art object: a masterpiece of repose next to a heap of notebooks where our friend’s genius continues to live on like the wristwatch of a dead soldier.

Text from the Metropolitan Museum of Art website

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Elsie Houston' 1933

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Elsie Houston
1933
Gelatin silver print
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

 

“Houston sang Brazilian folk songs by candlelight in Paris. She moved to New York in 1939, where she performed as a possessed woman muttering “voodoo” incantations and playing the drums. She died in her home in 1943, an empty vial of sleeping pills by her bedside. In Ray’s photograph, her smile is soft. Her head tilts in line with her elongated hand. That hand is adorned with a piece of jewellery in the shape of a spotted disc, which rhymes with her hoop earring and the arches of her eyebrows. The cool, clean contrasts of her white turban and dark clothes make the portrait one of Ray’s finest.”

Sebastian Smee. “Glamour, gossip, sex, scandal: Man Ray’s portraits captured Paris between the wars,” on The Washington Post website November 9, 2021 [Online] Cited 03/02/2022

 

Elsie Houston (Brazilian, 1902-1943)

Elsie Houston (22 April 1902 – 20 February 1943) was a Brazilian singer.

Houston figured in the Brazilian literary/art/music scene during a critical time in its history. It was an era of tremendous creative energy. In addition to Mário de Andrade and Pagu, Houston knew others famous members of this artists movement, including the composer Heitor Villa-Lobos, the painters Flavio de Carvalho, Anita Malfatti and Tarsila do Amaral, and the leader of Brazilian modernism, Oswald de Andrade.

Houston moved to Germany and studied with Lilli Lehmann a renowned voice teacher. She then studied with another famed soprano, Ninon Vallin, first in Argentina and then in Paris. Houston’s relationship with Heitor Villa Lobos began in her teens. Houston was definitely a soloist at Villa Lobos’s 1927 Paris concerts. In 1928 she married Benjamin Péret, French surrealist poet, with whom she lived in Brazil from 1929 to 1931. Their son, Geyser, was born in Rio de Janeiro in 1931.

By the late 1930s, Houston had moved to New York City. She was a brilliant singer, particularly skilled in the interpretation of Brazilian songs. The New York Times during this era praised for her performances. She was also an active supporter of young Latin American composers, performing early pieces by composers such as Jayme Ovalle and Camargo Guarnieri.

She died in 1943. Her death was listed as an apparent suicide.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

 

Ravel – Sur l’herbe – Elsie Houston (1930s)

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Lee Miller' 1929

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Lee Miller
1929
Gelatin silver print
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

 

Ray learned from the history of painting as much as from other photographers. He borrowed from Rembrandt’s tenebrism (his dramatic use of engulfing shadow), the slanting light and perspectival structure in Vermeer’s interiors, and the directness of Hans Holbein (strong light on the face, minimal backgrounds). But of course, he was in league with the surrealists and, in even his most classical-seeming portraits, revealed a predilection for unexpected juxtapositions, visual rhymes and piercing expressions that can transport you instantaneously to the lip of a volcanic unconscious.

Ray’s 1929 portrait of Lee Miller is a good example – surely one of the most mesmerising photographic portraits ever taken. What is the source of its uncanny power? It’s not just that Miller – herself a great photographer who for several years was Ray’s lover – is so beautiful; or that her direct gaze is simultaneously so trusting and challenging; or even that her unblemished skin and the symmetry of the whole composition suggest something impossibly pristine and inviolate. It’s because the image is slightly out of focus. The effect of the blur is to slow one’s response, as smoke rings slow the mind – and to trigger a dream state.

Sebastian Smee. “Glamour, gossip, sex, scandal: Man Ray’s portraits captured Paris between the wars,” on The Washington Post website November 9, 2021 [Online] Cited 03/02/2022

 

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Emak Bakia (Leave Me Alone)
1926

 

 

But you may be less familiar with some of Ray’s other subjects, including Germaine Tailleferre, the female composer who changed her name from Taillefesse, Taylor writes, “partly to spite her father, who refused to support her musical studies, but also because she disliked the connotations of the name Taillefesse, which translates as buttock in English”; Janet Scudder, an American sculptor, whose partner was the children’s author and suffragist Marion Cothren; and Barbette (below), the high-wire performer who presented as a graceful woman, but at the end of her act removed her wig and revealed herself as a man.

Personae like these – and Ray’s always inventive approach to their portraits – make this show more than just a roll call of famous names. They make it revelatory. The show is further enhanced by the inclusion of Ray’s wonderful 1926 film, “Emak-Bakia” (he called it a “cinépoème”), and a portfolio of semiabstract photographs he made for a Paris Electricity Co. marketing campaign. Both are remarkable.

Sebastian Smee. “Glamour, gossip, sex, scandal: Man Ray’s portraits captured Paris between the wars,” on The Washington Post website November 9, 2021 [Online] Cited 03/02/2022

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Barbette' 1926

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Barbette
1926
Gelatin silver print
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society

 

 

Vander Clyde Broadway (American, 1899-1973)

Vander Clyde Broadway (December 19, 1899 – August 5, 1973), stage name Barbette, was an American female impersonator, high-wire performer, and trapeze artist born in Texas. Barbette attained great popularity throughout the United States but his greatest fame came in Europe and especially Paris, in the 1920s and 1930s.

Barbette began performing as an aerialist at around the age of 14 as one-half of a circus act called The Alfaretta Sisters. After a few years of circus work, Barbette went solo and adopted his exotic-sounding pseudonym. He performed in full drag, revealing himself as male only at the end of his act.

Following a career-ending illness or injury (the sources disagree on the cause), which left him in constant pain, Barbette returned to Texas but continued to work as a consultant for motion pictures as well as training and choreographing aerial acts for a number of circuses. After years of dealing with chronic pain, Barbette committed suicide on August 5, 1973. Both in life and following his death, Barbette served as an inspiration to a number of artists, including Jean Cocteau and Man Ray. …

“Barbette,” writes Cocteau,

“transforms effortlessly back and forth between man and woman. His female glamour and elegance Cocteau likens to a cloud of dust thrown into the eyes of the audience, blinding it to the masculinity of the movements he needs to perform his acrobatics. That blindness is so complete that at the end of his act, Barbette does not simply remove his wig but instead plays the part of a man. He rolls his shoulders, stretches his hands, swells his muscles… And after the fifteenth or so curtain call, he gives a mischievous wink, shifts from foot to foot, mimes a bit of an apology, and does a shuffling little street urchin dance – all of it to erase the fabulous, dying-swan impression left by the act.”

Cocteau calls upon his fellow artists to incorporate deliberately this effect that he believes for Barbette is instinctive.

Cocteau commissioned a series of photographs of Barbette by the Surrealist artist Man Ray, which captured not only aspects of Barbette’s performance but also his process of transformation into his female persona.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Ernest Hemingway' 1928

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Ernest Hemingway
1928
Gelatin silver print
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Aldous Huxley' 1934

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Aldous Huxley
1934
Gelatin silver print
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

This photograph was taken two years after the publication of Huxley’s novel Brave New World, a nightmarish vision of the future.

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'La Ville' (The City) 1931

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
La Ville (The City)
1931
From the portfolio Èlectricité
Photogravure, printed 1931
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

 

In 1931, Man Ray was commissioned by the Compagnie Parisienne de Distribution d’Electricite (CPDE) to produce a series of pictures promoting the private consumption of electricity. The resulting portfolio, Électricité (Electricity), comprises rayographs reproduced as photogravures. Le Monde (The World), a picture of the moon above an electrical cord, suggests that even celestial bodies rely on the CPDE for their illumination; the photogravure Électricité equates the electric charge of the electron with the erotic beauty of a nude female figure; and Le Souffle (Breeze) combines spinning fan blades with the weblike stimuli of electrical current.

Gallery label from The Shaping of New Visions: Photography, Film, Photobook, April 16, 2012 – April 29, 2013 on the MoMA website [Online] Cited 03/02/2022

 

Man Ray. 'Électricité' 1931

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Électricité
1931
From the portfolio Èlectricité
Photogravure, printed 1931
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

 

Man Ray’s innovations are not excluded. A whole section of the exhibition is devoted to his light-bending portfolio Électricité (1931), a commercial project commissioned by the Paris Electric Company to promote the use of electrically powered household appliances. Comprised of ten “Rayographs” (another name for photograms), the portfolio pulses with kinetic energy. Fans spin with an otherworldly force, a fowl is perfectly cooked as by magic rays, and the Eiffel Tower swims in hi-wattage advertisements.

Daniel Cassady. “‘Paris’s glowing milieu spills onto every corner’: Virginia show theatrically tells the story of Man Ray’s fruitful time in the City of Lights,” on The Art Newspaper website 11 November 2021 [Online] Cited 03/02/2022

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Le Souffle' (Breeze) 1931

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Le Souffle (Breeze)
1931
From the portfolio Èlectricité
Photogravure, printed 1931
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Le Monde' (The World) 1931

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Le Monde (The World)
1931
From the portfolio Èlectricité
Photogravure, printed 1931
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

 

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09
Jun
17

Exhibition: ‘Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017’ at Tate Modern, London

Exhibition dates: 15th February – 11th June 2017

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'The State We're In, A' 2015

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
The State We’re In, A (Room 14)
2015
Ink-jet print
Dimensions variable
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'The Cock (Kiss)' 2002

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
The Cock (Kiss)
2002
Ink-jet print
Dimensions variable
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

If one thing matters, everything matters
(A love letter to Wolfgang Tillmans)

I believe that Wolfgang Tillmans is the number one photo-media artist working today. I know it’s a big call, but that’s how I see it.

His whole body of work is akin to a working archive – of memories, places, contexts, identities, landscapes (both physical and imagined) and people. He experiments, engages, and imagines all different possibilities in and through art. As Adrian Searle observes in his review of the exhibition, “Tillmans’ work is all a kind of evidence – a sifting through material to find meaning.” And that meaning varies depending on the point of view one comes from, or adopts, in relation to the art. The viewer is allowed to make their own mind up, to dis/assemble or deepen relationships between things as they would like, or require, or not as the case may be. Tillmans is not didactic, but guides the viewer on that journey through intersections and nodal points of existence. The nexus of life.

Much as I admire the writing of art critic John McDonald, I disagree with his assessment of the work of Wolfgang Tillmans at Tate Modern (see quotation below). Personally, I find that there are many memorable photographs in this exhibition … as valuable and as valid a way of seeing the world in a contemporary sense, as Eggleston’s photographs are in a historic visualisation. I can recall Tillmans’ images just an intimately as I can Eggleston’s. But they are of a different nature, and this is where McDonald’s analysis is like comparing apples and pears. Eggleston’s classical modernist photographs depend on the centrality of composition where his images are perfectly self-contained, whether he is photographing a woman in a blue dress sitting on a kerb or an all green bathroom. They are of their time. Times have changed, and how we view the world has changed.

For Tillmans no subject matter is trivial (If One Thing Matters, Everything Matters – the title of a 2003 exhibition at Tate Britain), and how he approaches the subject is totally different from Eggleston. As he says of his work, his images are “calls to attentiveness.” What does he mean by this? Influenced by the work of the philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti whom I have also studied, a call to attentiveness is a way of being open and responsive to the world around you, to its infinite inflections, and to not walk around as if in a dream, letting the world pass you by. To be open and receptive to the energies and connections of the world spirit by seeing clearly.

Krishnamurti insightfully observed that we do not need to make images out of every word, out of every vision and desire. We must be attentive to the clarity of not making images – of desire, of prejudice, of flattery – and then we might become aware of the world that surrounds us, just for what it is and nothing more.1 Then there would be less need for the absenting of self into the technological ether or the day dreams of foreign lands or the desire for a better life. But being aware is not enough, we must be attentive of that awareness and not make images just because we can or must. This is a very contemporary way of looking at the world. As Krishnamurti says,

“Now with that same attention I’m going to see that when you flatter me, or insult me, there is no image, because I’m tremendously attentive … I listen because the mind wants to find out if it is creating an image out of every word, out of every contact. I’m tremendously awake, therefore I find in myself a person who is inattentive, asleep, dull, who makes images and gets hurt – not an intelligent man. Have you understood it at least verbally? Now apply it. Then you are sensitive to every occasion, it brings its own right action. And if anybody says something to you, you are tremendously attentive, not to any prejudices, but you are attentive to your conditioning. Therefore you have established a relationship with him, which is entirely different from his relationship with you. Because if he is prejudiced, you are not; if he is unaware, you are aware. Therefore you will never create an image about him. You see the difference?”2

.
Then you are sensitive to every occasion, it brings its own right action. You are attentive and tremendously awake.

This is the essence of Tillmans work. He is tremendously attentive to the images he is making (“a representation of an unprivileged gaze or view” as he puts it) and to the associations that are possible between images, that we make as human beings. He is open and receptive to his conditioning and offers that gift to us through his art, if we recognise it and accept it for what it is. If you really look and understand what the artist is doing, these images are music, poetry and beauty – are time, place, belonging, voyeurism, affection, sex. They are archaic and shapeless and fluid and joy and magic and love…

They are the air between everything.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

  1. Krishnamurti. Beginnings of Learning. London: Penguin, 1975, p. 131
  2. Ibid., pp. 130-131

.
Many thankx to the Tate Modern for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“To look at Eggleston alongside those he has inspire [Wolfgang Tillmans and Juergen Teller for example] is to see a surprisingly old-fashioned artist. No matter how instinctive his approach or how trivial his subjects, Eggleston believes in the centrality of composition. His images are perfectly self-contained. They don’t depend on a splashy, messy installation or a political stance. …

In the current survey of Tillmans’s work at Tate Modern photos of every description are plastered across the walls in the most anarchic manner, with hardly a memorable composition. Yet this shapeless stuff is no longer reviled by the critics – it’s the height of fashion.”

.
John McDonald for The Sydney Morning Herald column. “William Eggleston: Portraits” on the John McDonald website June 1, 2017 [Online] Cited 17/12/2021

“For a long time in Britain, there was a deep suspicion of my work. People saw me as a commercial artist trying to get into the art world, and the work was dismissed as shallow or somehow lightweight. There are still many misconceptions about what I do – that my images are random and everyday, when they are actually neither. They are, in fact, the opposite. They are calls to attentiveness.”

.
Wolfgang Tillmans quoted in Sean O’Hagan. “Wolfgang Tillmans: ‘I was hit by a realisation – all I believed in was threatened’,” on The Guardian website Monday 13 February 2017 [Online] Cited 17/12/2021

 

 

Installation view of room 4 (detail) from the exhibition 'Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017', which includes the latest iteration of the 'truth study centre' project

 

Installation view of room 4 (detail), which includes the latest iteration of the truth study centre project, with
Image © Tate Modern showing Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017 at Tate Modern 15 February – 11 June

 

 

The Tate show includes a room full of his “truth study centres”, which comprise often contradictory newspaper cuttings as well as photographs and pamphlets that aim to show how news is manipulated according to the political loyalties of those who produce it. As activists go, though, Tillmans is defiantly centre ground. “This is about strengthening the centre. I can understand left-wing politics from a passionate, idealistic point of view, but I do not think it is the solution to where we are now. The solution is good governance, moderation, agreement. Post-Brexit, post-Trump, the voices of reason need to be heard more than ever.”

Wolfgang Tillmans quoted in Sean O’Hagan. “Wolfgang Tillmans: ‘I was hit by a realisation – all I believed in was threatened’,” on The Guardian website Monday 13 February 2017 [Online] Cited 17/12/2021

 

Installation view of room 13 (detail) from the exhibition 'Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017' at Tate Modern

 

Installation view of room 13 (detail), which focuses in on Tillmans’ portraiture with Eleanor / Lutz, a (2016) at right
Image © Tate Modern showing Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017 at Tate Modern 15 February – 11 June

 

Wolfgang Tillmans. 'Eleanor / Lutz, a' 2016

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Eleanor / Lutz, a
2016
Ink-jet print
Dimensions variable
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Portrait of Wolfgang Tillmans, Tate Modern Boiler House, Level 3, 14/02/2017 in front of his works, Transient 2, 2015 and Tag/Nacht II, 2010

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Tag/Nacht II' 2010

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Tag/Nacht II
2010
Ink-jet print
Dimensions variable
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

The State We’re In, A, is part of Neue Welt [New World], the loose family of pictures I began at the end of the last decade. These had two points of departure: “What does the outside world look like to me 20 years after I began photographing?” and “What does it look like in particular with a new photographic medium?”

.
Wolfgang Tillmans

 

“This exhibition is not about politics, it’s about poetry, it’s about installation art. It’s about thinking about the world. I’ve never felt that l can be separated, because the political is only the accumulation of many people’s private lives, which constitute the body politics…”

“My work has always been motivated by talking about society, by talking about how we live together, by how we feel in our bodies. Sexuality, like beauty, is never un-political, because they relate to what’s accepted in society. Two men kissing, is that acceptable? These are all questions to do with beauty.”

.
Wolfgang Tillmans quoted in Lorena Muñoz-Alonso. “Inside Wolfgang Tillmans’s Superb Tate Modern Survey,” on the artnet website February 15, 2017 [Online] Cited 17/12/2021

 

“There is music. There is dancing. Bewilderment is part of the pleasure, as we move between images and photographic abstractions. Tillmans’ asks us to make connections of all kinds – formal, thematic, spatial, political. He asks what the limits of photography are. There are questions here about time, place, belonging, voyeurism, affection, sex. After a while it all starts to tumble through me.”

.
Adrian Searle. “Wolfgang Tillmans review – a rollercoaster ride around the world,” on The Guardian website Wednesday 15 February 2017 [Online] Cited 17/12/2021

 

 

What are we to make of the world in which we find ourselves today? Contemporary artist Wolfgang Tillmans offers plenty of food for thought.

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.

The year 2003 is the exhibition’s point of departure, representing for Tillmans the moment the world changed, with the invasion of Iraq and anti-war demonstrations. The social and political form a rich vein throughout the artist’s work. German-born, international in outlook and exhibited around the world, Tillmans spent many years in the UK and is currently based in Berlin. In 2000, he was the first photographer and first non-British artist to receive the Turner Prize.

 

Room one

Static interference typically appears on a television screen when an analogue signal is switched off. This can occur when a station’s official programme finishes for the night or if a broadcast is censored. In Tillmans’s Sendeschluss / End of Broadcast 2014 it represents the coexistence of two different generations of technology. The chaotic analogue static was displayed on a digital television, which allowed Tillmans’s high-resolution digital camera to record the pattern as it really appeared, something that would not have been possible with a traditional cathode ray tube television. This work shows Tillmans’s interest in questioning what we believe to be true: the seemingly black-and-white image turns out to be extremely colourful when viewed very close up.

Other works in this room reflect on digital printmaking and photography today. For example, the technical ability to photograph a nightscape from a moving vehicle without blurring, as in these images of Sunset Boulevard, is unprecedented. Itself the subject of many famous art photographs, this iconic roadway appears here littered with large format inkjet prints in the form of advertising billboards. In Double Exposure 2012-13 Tillmans juxtaposes images of two trade fairs – one for digital printers, the other for fruit and vegetables. Encounter 2014 shows a different photo-sensitive process. A pot had been left on top of a planter preventing light from reaching the sprouts underneath and leaving them white, while the surrounding growths that caught the daylight turned green.

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Sendeschluss / End of Broadcast I' 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Sendeschluss / End of Broadcast I
2014
Pigmented inkjet print
107 1/2 × 161 1/2″ (273.1 × 410.2cm)
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Television white noise that the artist photographed while in Russia. For Tillmans, the image signifies resistance on his part to making clear images, but without the text its ostensibly radical nature would not be known.

 

Installation view of room 1 (detail), with 'Sendeschluss / End of Broadcast I' 2014, at left

 

Installation view of room 1 (detail), with Sendeschluss / End of Broadcast I, 2014, at left

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Double Exposure' 2012-13

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Double Exposure
2012-13
Pigmented inkjet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Room two

Tillmans spends much of his time in the studio, yet he only occasionally uses it as a set for taking portraits. Instead, it is where prints are made and exhibitions are planned in architectural models, and where he collects materials and generates ideas. Over the years this environment has become a subject for his photographs, presenting a radically different view of the artist’s studio to the more traditional depictions seen in paintings over the centuries.

These works made around the studio demonstrate Tillmans’s concern with the physical process of making photographs, from chemical darkroom processes and their potential to create abstract pictures without the camera, to digital technology that is vital to the production of contemporary images, and the paper onto which they are printed. Tillmans’s understanding of the material qualities of paper is fundamental to his work, and photographs can take on a sculptural quality in series such as Lighter, 2005-ongoing and paper drop, 2001-ongoing, seen later in the exhibition.

In CLC 800, dismantled 2011 Tillmans uses photography to record a temporary installation, the result of unfastening every single screw in his defunct colour photocopier. He prefers to photograph his three-dimensional staged scenarios rather than actually displaying them as sculptures. He has often described the core of his work as ‘translating the three dimensional world into two dimensional pictures’.

 

Wolfgang Tillmans. 'paper drop' 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
paper drop Prinzessinnenstrasse
2014
Pigmented inkjet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Perhaps as a continuation of his more textural photographs – depicting fabrics and still lifes so close up they become difficult to read – experiments in abstraction followed suit, many of them featuring what is perhaps his favourite motif: the fold, which, as the exhibition’s curator Chris Dercon kindly reminded us, was considered by the philosopher Leibniz as one of the most accurate ways to depict the complexities of the human soul.

Lorena Muñoz-Alonso. “Inside Wolfgang Tillmans’s Superb Tate Modern Survey,” on the artnet website February 15, 2017 [Online] Cited 17/12/2021

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'CLC 800, dismantled' 2011

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
CLC 800, dismantled
2011
Pigmented inkjet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Room three

Having spent the preceding decade working largely on conceptual and abstract photographs, in 2009 Tillmans embarked on the four-year project Neue Welt. Looking at the world with fresh eyes, he aimed to depict how it has changed since he first took up the camera in 1988. He travelled to five continents to find places unknown to him and visited familiar places as if experiencing them for the first time. Interested in the surface of things as they appeared in those lucid first days of being in a new environment, he immersed himself in each location for just a brief period. Now using a high resolution digital camera, Tillmans captured images in a depth of detail that is immediately compelling, but also suggests the excess of information that is often described as a condition of contemporary life.

Communal spaces, people, animals, and still-life studies of nature or food are just some of the subjects that feature in Neue Welt. Seen together, these images offer a deliberately fragmented view. Rather than making an overarching statement about the changing character of modern life, Tillmans sought only to record, and to create a more empathetic understanding of the world. Over the course of the project, however, some shrewd observations about contemporary worldviews did emerge. One related to the changing shape of car headlights, which he noted are now very angular in shape, giving them a predatory appearance that might reflect a more competitive climate.

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'astro crusto, a' 2012

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
astro crusto, a
2012
Pigmented inkjet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Installation shot of room 3 from the exhibition 'Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017' at Tate Modern

 

Installation view of room 3 (detail), with Headlight (f) 2012, at left; and Munuwata sky, 2011 at right
Image © Tate Modern showing Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017 at Tate Modern 15 February – 11 June

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Headlight (f)' 2012

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Headlight (f)
2012
Pigmented inkjet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Munuwata sky' 2011

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Munuwata sky
2011
Pigmented inkjet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Room four

In the mid-2000s, prompted by global events, such as the claim that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, Tillmans became interested in the assertions made by individuals, groups or organisations around the world that their viewpoint represented the absolute truth about a number of political and ethical questions.

He began his wryly-named truth study center project in 2005. Photographs, clippings from newspapers and magazines, objects, drawings, and copies of his own images are laid out in deliberate – and often provocative – juxtapositions. These arrangements reflect the presentation of information by news outlets in print and online. They also draw attention to gaps in knowledge, or areas where there is room for doubt. For each installation, the material presented in the truth study centers is selected according to its topical and geographic context. In 2017, the subject of truth and fake news is at the heart of political discourse across the world. This iteration of the project focuses in particular on how constructions of truth work on a psychological and physiological level.

The Silver 1998-ongoing prints connect to reality in a different way. Made by passing monochromatically exposed photographic paper through a dirty photo-developing machine, they collect particles and residue from the rollers and liquids. This makes them, in effect, a record of the chemical and mechanical process from which they originate.

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'truth study center' 2017

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
truth study center
2017
Pigmented inkjet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Room five

Tillmans has described how, as a photographer, he feels increasingly less obligated to reflect solely on the outside world through documentary images. In his abstract works, he looks inwards: exploring the rudiments of photographic processes and their potential to be used as a form of self-expression.

Like the Silver works in the previous room, the abstract Greifbar 2014-15 images are made without a camera. Working in the darkroom, Tillmans traces light directly onto photographic paper. The vast swathes of colour are a record of the physical gestures involved in their construction, but also suggest aspects of the body such as hair, or pigmentation of the skin. This reference to the figurative is reflected in the title, which translates as ‘tangible’.

Tillmans has observed that even though these works are made by the artist’s hand, they look as though they could be ‘scientific’ evidence of natural processes. For him, this interpretation is important, because it disassociates the works from the traditional gestural technique of painting. That the image is read as a photographic record, and not the result of the artist’s brushstroke, is essential to its conceptual meaning.

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Greifbar 29' 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Greifbar 29
2014
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Room six

Tillmans is interested in social life in its broadest sense, encompassing our participation in society. His photographs of individuals and groups are underpinned by his conviction that we are all vulnerable, and that our well-being depends upon knowing that we are not alone in the world.

Tillmans has observed that although cultural attitudes towards race, gender and sexuality have become more open over the three decades since he began his artistic practice, there is also greater policing of nightlife, and urban social spaces are closing down. His photographs taken in clubs, for example, testify to the importance of places where people can go today to feel safe, included, and free.

This concern with freedom also extends to the ways in which people organise themselves to make their voices heard. Images of political marches and protests draw attention to the cause for which they are fighting. They also form part of a wider study of what Tillmans describes as the recent ‘re-emergence’ of activism.

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'The Blue Oyster Bar, Saint Petersburg' 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
The Blue Oyster Bar, Saint Petersburg
2014
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'NICE HERE but ever been to KRYGYZSTAN free Gender Expression WORLDWIDE' 2006

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
NICE HERE but ever been to KRYGYZSTAN free Gender Expression WORLDWIDE
2006
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Room seven

Playback Room is a space designed for listening to recorded music. The project first ran at Between Bridges, the non-profit exhibition space Tillmans opened in London in 2006 and has since transferred to Berlin. In three exhibition (‘Colourbox’, ‘American Producers’ ‘Bring Your Own’) that took place between September 2014 and February 2015, he invited visitors to come and listen to music at almost the same quality at which it was originally mastered.

Whereas live music can be enjoyed in concert halls and stadiums, and visual art can be enjoyed in museums, no comparable space exists for appreciating studio music. Musicians and producers spend months recording tracks at optimal quality, yet we often listen to the results through audio equipment and personal devices that are not fit for perfect sound reproduction. Playback Room is a response to this. An example of Tillmans’s curatorial practice, he has chosen to include it here to encourage others to think about how recorded music can be given prominence within the museum setting.

The three tracks you hear in this room are by Colourbox, an English band who were active between 1982 and 1987. Tillmans, a long-term fan of the band, chose their music for Playback Room because they never performed live, thus emphasising the importance of the studio recordings.

 

Room eight

Tillmans began experimenting with abstraction while in high school, using the powerful enlargement function of an early digital photocopier to copy and degrade his own photographs as well as those cut from newspapers. He describes the coexistence of chance and control involved in this process as an essential ingredient in most of his work.

Ever since then, he has found ways to resist the idea that the photograph is solely a direct record of reality. In 2011, this area of his practice was compiled for the first time in his book Abstract Pictures. For a special edition of 176 copies Tillmans manipulated the printing press, for example by running it without plates or pouring ink into the wrong compartments, to create random effects and overprinted pages.

Some of his abstract photographs are made with a camera and others without, through the manipulation of chemicals, light, or the paper itself. Importantly, however, Tillmans does not distinguish between the abstract and the representational. He is more interested in what they have in common. The relationship between photography, sculpture and the body, for example, is expressed in abstract photographs made by crumpling a sheet of photographic paper, but also in close-ups of draped and wrinkled clothing such as Faltenwurf (Pines) a, 2016 in Room 9.

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Concorde L433-11' 1997

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Concorde L433-11
1997
Ink-jet print
Tate
© Wolfgang Tillmans, courtesy Maureen Paley, London

 

 

Room nine

Artist books, exhibition catalogues, newspaper supplements and magazine spreads, posters and leaflets are an integral part of Tillmans’s output. These various formats and the ways in which they are distributed or made visible in the public space allow him to present work and engage audiences in a completely different manner to exhibitions. For him the printed page is as valid a venue for artistic creation as the walls of a museum. Many such projects are vital platforms on which he can speak out about a political topic, or express his continued interest in subjects such as musicians, or portraiture in general.

Recently, the print layout has enabled Tillmans to share a more personal aspect of his visual archive. Originally designed as a sixty-six page spread for the Winter 2015/Spring 2016 edition of Arena Homme +, this grid of images looks back at Fragile, the name he gave as a teenager to his creative alter-ego. Spanning 1983 to 1989 – the year before he moved to England to study – the photographs and illustrations provide a sensitive insight into a formative period in Tillmans’s life, predating the time when he chose photography as his main medium of expression.

The layout is also an example of the intricate collaging technique that he has employed in printed matter since 2011, deliberately obscuring some images by overlapping others on top of them

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Faltenwurf (Pines), a' 2016

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Faltenwurf (Pines), a
2016
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Tukan' 2010

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Tukan
2010
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Room ten

An acute awareness of fragility endures across Tillmans’s practice in all of its different forms. Often this is expressed in his attentiveness to textures and surfaces. Collum 2011 is taken from Central Nervous System 2008-13, a group of portraits featuring only one subject, where the focus on intimate details, such as the nape of the neck or the soft skin of the outer ear, both emphasises and celebrates the frailty of the human body.

Weed 2014, a four-metre tall photograph taken in the garden of the artist’s London home, invites us to consider the beauty and complexity of a plant usually seen as a nuisance. The dead leaf of a nearby fig tree appears as both a sculptural form and a memento mori. Dusty Vehicle 2012, photographed in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, is highly specific in its depiction of texture, yet the reasons leading to this roadside arrangement remain a mystery.

The focus on a very few works in this room serves as an example of Tillmans’s varied approaches to exhibiting his prints. Though best known for installations comprising many pictures, he always places emphasis on the strength of the individual image. By pinning and taping work to the wall, as well as using frames, Tillmans draws attention to the edges of the print, encouraging the viewer to interact with the photograph as an object, rather than a conduit for an image.

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Dusty Vehicle' 2012

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Dusty Vehicle
2012
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Collum' 2011

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Collum
2011
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Weed' 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Weed
2014
Photograph, inkjet print on paper
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Room eleven

In this room Tillmans highlights the coexistence of the personal, private, public, and political spheres in our lives. The simultaneity of a life lived as a sexual being as well as a political being, or in Tillmans’s case as a conceptual artist as well as a visually curious individual, plays out through the installation.

The entirely white view taken from the inside of a cloud, a word charged with multiple meanings, is presented alongside the close-up and matter-of-fact view of male buttocks and testicles. Like nackt, 2 2014, the small photograph The Air Between 2016 is the result of a lifelong interest in visually describing what it feels like to live in our bodies. Here the attention lies in photographing the air, the empty space between our skin and our clothes.

In still life, Calle Real II 2013, a severed agave chunk is placed on a German newspaper article describing the online depiction of atrocities by Islamic State. The image is as startling in its depiction of the finest green hues as it is in capturing how, simultaneously, we take in world events alongside details of our personal environment.

This room, which Tillmans considers as one work or installation in its entirety, is an example of his innovative use of different photographic prints and formats to reflect upon how we experience vastly different aspects of the world at the same time.

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'The Air Between' 2016

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
The Air Between
2016
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Still life, Calle Real II' 2013

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Still life, Calle Real II
2013
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Nackt, 2 (nude, 2)' 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Nackt, 2 (nude, 2)
2014
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Room twelve

Tillmans has always been sensitive to the public side of his role as an artist, acknowledging that putting images out in the public world unavoidably places himself in the picture as well. His participation in activities such as lectures and interviews has been a platform for his voice from the beginning of his career.

Since 2014 he has also allowed performance to become a more prominent strand of his practice. Filmed in a hotel room in Los Angeles and an apartment in Tehran, Instrument 2015 is the first time that Tillmans has put himself in front of the camera for a video piece. Across a split screen, we see two separate occasions on which he has filmed himself dancing. The accompanying soundtrack was created by distorting the sound of his feet hitting the floor. In the absence of any other music, his body becomes an instrument.

On one side of the screen we see his body, on the other only his shadow. Referring to the shadow, New York Times critic Roberta Smith commented that:

“Disconcertingly, this insubstantial body is slightly out of sync with the fleshly one. It is a ghost, a shade, the specter that drives us all. The ease with which we want to believe that the two images are connected, even though they were filmed separately, might also act as a reminder to question what we assume to be true.”

 

Room thirteen

Portraiture has been central to Tillmans’s practice for three decades. For him, it is a collaborative act that he has described as ‘a good levelling instrument’. No matter who the sitter – a stranger or someone close to him, a public figure, an unknown individual, or even the artist himself – the process is characterised by the same dynamics: of vulnerability, exposure, honesty and always, to some extent, self-consciousness. Tillmans sees every portrait as resulting from the expectations and hopes of both sitter and photographer.

The portrait’s ability to highlight the relationship between appearance and identity is a recurring point of interest. In 2016, at HM Prison Reading, Tillmans took a distorted self-portrait in a damaged mirror once used by inmates. The disfigured result is the artist’s expression of the effects on the soul wrought by physical and psychological confinement and also censorship. Whoever looked into the reflective surface would gain a completely inaccurate impression of what they looked like, and how they are perceived by others.

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Separate System, Reading Prison' 2016

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Separate System, Reading Prison
2016
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans. 'Anders pulling splinter from his foot' 2004

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Anders pulling splinter from his foot
2004
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

“The image’s reference to both Dorian Gray and Francis Bacon is evident. This catapults a new association: perhaps Bacon was painting Gray all along. Insistently, fearlessly, longingly.

As with much of Bacon’s oeuvre, and the very particular picture of Dorian Gray, a distorted, forward-facing male figure intimidates the viewer with his unmade face. However, Tillsman’s piece is not a picture, it is a photograph. Here, the artist (as was the case with Bacon/Wilde) is not the one dissembling what’s inside the frame, subjecting it with his brush. No. In Tillsman’s image, a piece of thick glass distorts the artist. Here, the artist is no longer the lens that is able to affect his surroundings. Here, the surroundings distort the artist.

The message Tillsman delivers is clear: things have changed. The world disfigures the subject while the artist is trapped, forced to stand there and watch.”

Text by Ana Maria Caballero on The Drugstore Notebook website [Online] Cited 07/06/2017. No longer available online

 

Room fourteen

Symbol and allegory are artistic strategies Tillmans is usually keen to avoid. The State We’re In, A 2015 is a departure from this stance: the work’s title is a direct reference to current global political tensions. Depicting the Atlantic Ocean, a vast area that crosses time zones and national frontiers, it records the sea energised by opposing forces, but not yet breaking into waves. Differing energies collide, about to erupt into conflict.

The photographs in this room deal with borders and how they seem clear-cut but are actually fluid. In these images, borders are made tangible in the vapour between clouds, the horizon itself or the folds in the two Lighter photo-objects. The shipwreck left behind by refugees on the Italian island of Lampedusa, depicted in this photograph from 2008, is a reminder that borders, represented elsewhere in more poetic delineations, can mean a question of life and death.

The text and tables sculpture Time Mirrored 3 2017 represents Tillmans’s interest in connecting the time in which we live to a broader historical context. He always understands the ‘Now’ as the history of the future. Events perceived as having happened over a vast gulf of time between us and the past, become tangible when ‘mathematically mirrored’ and connected to more recent periods of time in our living memory.

In contrast to the epic themes of sea and time, the pictures of an apple tree outside the artist’s London front door, a subject he has photographed since 2002, suggest a day-to-day positive outlook.

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Italian Coastal Guard Flying Rescue Mission off Lampedusa' 2008

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Italian Coastal Guard Flying Rescue Mission off Lampedusa
2008
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Lampedusa' 2008

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Lampedusa
2008
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Installation view of room 14 (detail)

 

Installation view of room 14 (detail), featuring at left, pictures of an apple tree outside the artist’s London front door and at right, La Palma 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'La Palma' 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
La Palma
2014
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Apple tree' 2007

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Apple tree
2007
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Apple tree' Various dates

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Apple tree
Various dates
Ink-jet prints
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Book for Architects

Book for Architects 2014 is the culmination of Tillmans’s longstanding fascination with architecture. First presented at Rem Koolhaas’s 14th International Architecture Exhibition, Venice, 2013, it explores the contrast between the rationality and utopianism that inform design and the reality of how buildings and streets come to be constructed and inhabited.

In 450 images taken in 37 countries, across 5 continents, Tillmans hones in on the resourceful and ingenious ways in which people adapt their surroundings to fit their needs. These are individual and uncoordinated decisions that were not anticipated in architects’ plans, but still impact the contemporary built environment.

Across the double projection, we see examples of how buildings come to sit within a city plan, the ad-hoc ways in which they are modified, and the supposed ‘weaknesses’ of a space such as the corners where there are service doors, fire escapes, or alarm systems.

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Shit buildings going up left, right and centre' 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Shit buildings going up left, right and centre
2014
Book for Architects Plate 083 2014
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Untitled' 2012

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Untitled
2012
Book for Architects 2014
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

“He has said of his photographs that “they are a representation of an unprivileged gaze or view … In photography I like to assume exactly the unprivileged position, the position that everybody can take, that chooses to sit at an airplane window or chooses to climb a tower.”

.
Wolfgang Tillmans quoted in Peter Halley, Midori Matsui, Jan Verwoert, Wolfgang Tillmans, London 2002, p. 136

 

 

Wolfgang Tillmans has earned recognition as one of the most exciting and innovative artists working today. Tate Modern presents an exhibition concentrating on his production across different media since 2003. First rising to prominence in the 1990s for his photographs of everyday life and contemporary culture, Tillmans has gone on to work in an ever greater variety of media and has taken an increasingly innovative approach to staging exhibitions. Tate Modern brings this variety to the fore, offering a new focus on his photographs, video, digital slide projections, publications, curatorial projects and recorded music.

Social and political themes form a rich vein throughout Tillmans’s work. The destabilisation of the world has arisen as a recurring concern for the artist since 2003, an important year when he felt the world changed with the invasion of Iraq and anti-war demonstrations. In 2017, at a moment when the subject of truth and fake news is at the heart of political discourse, Tillmans presents a new configuration of his tabletop installation truth study center 2005-ongoing. This ongoing project uses an assembly of printed matter from pamphlets to newspaper cuttings to his own works on paper to highlight Tillmans’s continued interest in word events and how they are communicated in the media.

Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017 will particularly highlight the artist’s deeper engagement with abstraction, beginning with the important work Sendeschluss / End of Broadcast I 2014. Based on images the artist took of an analogue TV losing signal, this work combines two opposing technologies – the digital and the analogue. Other works such as the series Blushes 2000-ongoing, made without a camera by manipulating the effects of light directly on photographic paper, show how the artist’s work with abstraction continues to push the boundaries and definitions of the photographic form.

The exhibition includes portraiture, landscape and still lives. A nightclub scene might record the joy of a safe social space for people to be themselves, while large-scale images of the sea such as La Palma 2014 or The State We’re In, A 2015 document places where borders intersect and margins are ever shifting. At the same time, intimate portraits like Collum 2011 focus on the delicacy, fragility and beauty of the human body. In 2009, Tillmans began using digital photography and was struck by the expanded opportunities the technology offered him. He began to travel more extensively to capture images of the commonplace and the extraordinary, photographing people and places across the world for the series Neue Welt 2009 – 2012.

The importance of Tillmans’s interdisciplinary practice is showcased throughout the exhibition. His Playback Room project, first shown at his Berlin exhibition space Between Bridges, provides a space within the museum for visitors to experience popular music by Colourbox at the best possible quality. The video installation Instrument 2015 shows Tillmans dancing to a soundtrack made by manipulating the sound of his own footsteps, while in the Tanks Studio his slide projection Book for Architects 2014 is being shown for the first time in the UK. Featuring thirty-seven countries and five continents, it reveals the tension between architectural form and function. In March, Tillmans will also take over Tate Modern’s south Tank for ten days with a specially-commissioned installation featuring live music events.

Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017 is co-curated by Chris Dercon and Helen Sainsbury, Head of Programme Realisation, Tate Modern with Emma Lewis, Assistant Curator, Tate Modern. The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue from Tate Publishing designed by Wolfgang Tillmans and a programme of talks and events in the gallery.

Press release from Tate Modern

 

Images from the exhibition

Installation view of the exhibition 'Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017' at Tate Modern 15 February - 11 June

 

Installation view of the exhibition Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017 with at left, Sunset night drive (2014) and at centre right, Young Man, Jeddah (2012)

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Sunset night drive' 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Sunset night drive
2014
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Young Man, Jeddah' 2012

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Young Man, Jeddah
2012
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Young Man, Jeddah (B)' 2012

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Young Man, Jeddah (B)
2012
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) '17 Years Supply' 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
17 Years Supply
2014
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

“Now the camera is staring into a big cardboard box, half-filled with pharmacist’s tubs and packages, 17 years’ supply of antiretroviral and other medications to treat HIV/Aids. I imagine the sound that box would make if you shook it, what that sound might say about a human life, its vulnerability and value.”

Adrian Searle. “Wolfgang Tillmans review – a rollercoaster ride around the world,” on The Guardian website Wednesday 15 February 2017 [Online] Cited 17/12/2021

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Market I' 2012

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Market I
2012
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Studio still life, c' 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Studio still life, c
2014
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Juan Pablo & Karl Chingaza' 2012

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Juan Pablo & Karl Chingaza
2012
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Iguazu' 2010

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Iguazu
2010
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Oscar Niemeyer' 2010

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Oscar Niemeyer
2010
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Tube escalator joint' 2009

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Tube escalator joint
2009
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'JAL' 1997

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
JAL
1997
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Port-au-Prince' 2010

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Port-au-Prince
2010
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'London Olympics' 2012

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
London Olympics
2012
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Fespa Car' 2012

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Fespa Car
2012
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'The Spectrum Dagger' 2016

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
The Spectrum Dagger
2016
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Gaza Wall' 2009

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Gaza Wall
2009
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Simon, Sebastian Street' 2013

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Simon, Sebastian Street
2013
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Arms and Legs' 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Arms and Legs
2014
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Tate Modern
Bankside
London SE1 9TG
United Kingdom

Opening hours:
Sunday – Thursday 10.00 – 18.00
Friday – Saturday 10.00 – 22.00

Tate Modern website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, an art and cultural memory archive, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Doctor of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Orphans and small groups’ 1994-96 Part 2

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