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"Still Life Redefined: Wolfgang Tillmans"
2002-10-25 until 2003-02-03
Busch-Reisinger Museum, Harvard
Cambridge, MA, USA United States of America

Harvard’s Busch-Reisinger Museum is the first American art museum to mount a solo exhibition of works by Wolfgang Tillmans, the 34-year-old Turner prize-winning photographer whose seemingly casual images have chronicled European youth culture for the past decade.

Wolfgang Tillmans
Tillmans, who was born in 1968 in Remscheid, Germany, moved to London in the late 1980s and worked as a fashion photographer for the London magazines I-D, Spex, Interview and The Face. He often photographed his friends and their parties, intimately portraying “the constraint-free lifestyles of youth cultures and the alternative concepts of beauty, sexuality, and politics” they pursued, Paul writes in the catalogue essay for the show.

Tillmans’s subject matter ranges from the banal to the provocative—he has photographed everything from a wrinkled and soiled white T-shirt to partially clad teenagers examining each other’s genitals. And while the images appear to be casual snapshots, they are in fact usually carefully staged to give the appearance of spontaneity.

Tillmans’s work has been displayed in group exhibitions worldwide and solo shows in London, Tokyo, and his hometown of Remscheid. He has published nine books and won several prizes, including the £10,000 Turner Prize, which is awarded by the Tate Gallery in Britain each year to a British artist under the age of 50. In announcing the prize for the year 2000, the Turner judges cited “Tillmanss ability to present sensitive subject matter, such as gay sex and a man urinating on a chair, in ways that challenge conventional definitions of art,” according to Time International.

Beauty in the banal
“Tillmans’s imagery has been instrumental to a widespread, renewed interest in contemporary still life,” said Paul, who, like Tillmans, is a native of Germany. “He shows the beauty in the banal. It’s part of his antimaterialistic attitude. It doesn’t have to be luscious, clean, glamorous stuff, though he can make it look as if it is.”

In Tillmans’s still-life photographs, one sees a sink brimming with dirty dishes, empty beer bottles and the remnants of take-out food (Kitchen still life, 1995); the geometric grid of a loft window softened by postcard images by Caravaggio (Window, Caravaggio, 1997); peppers and other objects splayed across the bottom half of a folded newspaper (Peppers, 1994).

In still life, Tel Aviv, 1999, one gets a glimpse of a shelf in what appears to be an open kitchen cabinet. One empty plastic Tupperware container balances precariously on another; a shriveled lemon coexists with a half-used head of garlic, a corkscrew lies on its side in front of a small bowl. “Tillmans’s still life pictures focus on [the] relationship between objects and the priorities and desires of the social milieu in which they appear,” Paul noted in his catalogue essay. “Like the photographs of his friends, they describe attitudes and lifestyles.” In the current consumer culture, which encourages conformity, Tillmans documents the ways in which people express their individuality, often applying techniques from commercial photography. “He navigates between the way a commercial photograph is designed to make an object desirable and the way more conventional genres work to make an object beautiful,” said Norden. “In a Dutch still life, one thinks of the painted objects as beautiful, but they also communicated multiple meanings about their use and significance to their viewers. Tillmans has updated the aestheticizing central to earlier still life by acknowledging the extent to which “youth culture” and domesticity is bound up with advertising and product design. Against the pressure of advertising and conformity, Tillmans reads taste as a way to assert individuality in a designed world. He shows there’s still room to maneuver.” >

Wolfgang Tillmans: still life will show how an artist known for what has been called a “snapshot aesthetic” has transformed a genre most associated with 17th-century Dutch paintings into rigorously democratic, non-hierarchical depictions of contemporary, commodity-saturated life. 30 of Tillmans’s color prints will be on display at the Busch-Reisinger Museum October 25, 2002 through February 23, 2003. The exhibition is scheduled to travel to The Print Center in Philadelphia, fall 2003.

Wolfgang Tillmans: still life will be a departure from Tillmans’s usual practice of installing exhibitions himself by pinning unframed prints of various sizes to the wall. Benjamin Paul, a Ph.D. student in History of Art and Architecture at Harvard, who will curate the exhibition, has chosen to frame individual photographs and to hang them in a more formal installation. James Cuno, Elizabeth and John Moors Cabot Director of the Harvard University Art Museums, comments: “We are very pleased to be mounting the first ever U.S. museum exhibition of this important artist. As with his photographs of the human figure, his still lifes are not at all what they first seem. Their apparent banality masks a complicated and sophisticated critique of the snapshot, the ordinary pictures of our everyday lives, as well as of the manufactured beauty of set-up, commercial product photography. Benjamin Paul and Linda Norden – curator of contemporary art at the Fogg Art Museum – have provided us with a new look at the work of Wolfgang Tillmans.

Wolfgang Tillmans
Tillmans, who was born in 1968 in Remscheid, Germany, moved to London in the late 1980s and worked as a fashion photographer for the London magazines I-D, Spex, Interview and The Face. He often photographed his friends and their parties, intimately portraying “the constraint-free lifestyles of youth cultures and the alternative concepts of beauty, sexuality, and politics” they pursued, Paul writes in the catalogue essay for the show.

Tillmans’s subject matter ranges from the banal to the provocative—he has photographed everything from a wrinkled and soiled white T-shirt to partially clad teenagers examining each other’s genitals. And while the images appear to be casual snapshots, they are in fact usually carefully staged to give the appearance of spontaneity.

Tillmans’s work has been displayed in group exhibitions worldwide and solo shows in London, Tokyo, and his hometown of Remscheid. He has published nine books and won several prizes, including the £10,000 Turner Prize, which is awarded by the Tate Gallery in Britain each year to a British artist under the age of 50. In announcing the prize for the year 2000, the Turner judges cited “Tillmanss ability to present sensitive subject matter, such as gay sex and a man urinating on a chair, in ways that challenge conventional definitions of art,” according to Time International.

Beauty in the banal
“Tillmans’s imagery has been instrumental to a widespread, renewed interest in contemporary still life,” said Paul, who, like Tillmans, is a native of Germany. “He shows the beauty in the banal. It’s part of his antimaterialistic attitude. It doesn’t have to be luscious, clean, glamorous stuff, though he can make it look as if it is.”

In Tillmans’s still-life photographs, one sees a sink brimming with dirty dishes, empty beer bottles and the remnants of take-out food (Kitchen still life, 1995); the geometric grid of a loft window softened by postcard images by Caravaggio (Window, Caravaggio, 1997); peppers and other objects splayed across the bottom half of a folded newspaper (Peppers, 1994).

In still life, Tel Aviv, 1999, one gets a glimpse of a shelf in what appears to be an open kitchen cabinet. One empty plastic Tupperware container balances precariously on another; a shriveled lemon coexists with a half-used head of garlic, a corkscrew lies on its side in front of a small bowl. “Tillmans’s still life pictures focus on [the] relationship between objects and the priorities and desires of the social milieu in which they appear,” Paul noted in his catalogue essay. “Like the photographs of his friends, they describe attitudes and lifestyles.” In the current consumer culture, which encourages conformity, Tillmans documents the ways in which people express their individuality, often applying techniques from commercial photography. “He navigates between the way a commercial photograph is designed to make an object desirable and the way more conventional genres work to make an object beautiful,” said Norden. “In a Dutch still life, one thinks of the painted objects as beautiful, but they also communicated multiple meanings about their use and significance to their viewers. Tillmans has updated the aestheticizing central to earlier still life by acknowledging the extent to which “youth culture” and domesticity is bound up with advertising and product design. Against the pressure of advertising and conformity, Tillmans reads taste as a way to assert individuality in a designed world. He shows there’s still room to maneuver.”

IMAGE:
Wolfgang Tillmans (1968 - ).
still life, Tel Aviv, 1999.
C-print, 20 x 24 in.
Edition of 3 and 1 artist proof.
Courtesy of Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York. TL38404.3


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