Wolfgang Tillmans

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Wolfgang Tillmans
Tillmans crop.jpg
Wolfgang Tillmans in 2013
Born (1968-08-16) 16 August 1968 (age 46)
Remscheid, West Germany
Nationality German
Education Bournemouth and Poole College of Art
Known for Art photography
Awards Turner Prize (2000)

Wolfgang Tillmans (born 1968) is a German fine-art photographer. His diverse body of work is distinguished by observation of his surroundings and an ongoing investigation of the photographic medium’s foundations.

In 2000, Tillmans was the first photographer - and also the first non-English person - to be awarded the Tate annual Turner Prize. In 2009, he was awarded the Kulturpreis der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Photographie (The Culture Prize of the German Society for Photography). Tillmans lives in Berlin and London.

Life and career[edit]

Wolfgang Tillmans in the 1990s
AIDS memorial in Munich

Tillmans was born on August 16, 1968 in Remscheid.

During his first visit to England as an exchange student in 1983, he discovered the British youth culture and the local fashion and music magazines of the time. From 1987 through 1990, he lived in Hamburg where he also had his first solo exhibitions at Café Gnosa, Front and Frarik-Foto-Forum.[citation needed] From 1990 through 1992, he studied at Bournemouth and Poole College of Art and Design in southern England. After his studies he moved to London and then to New York in 1994 for a year, where he met the German painter Jochen Klein. After moving back to England, Tillmans lived with Klein until he died of AIDS-related complications in 1997.

From 1995, Wolfgang Tillmans primarily lived and worked in London. During the summer of 1998, Tillmans participated in a month-long residency at the last active Shaker community in the world, in Sabbathday Lake, Maine.[1] Since 2007, he has divided his time between Berlin and London.[2] Following a guest professorship at the Hochschule für bildende Kunst in Hamburg from 1998 to 1999 and his Honorary Fellowship at the Arts University College at Bournemouth in 2001, Tillmans had been a professor for Interdisciplinary Art at the Städelschule in Frankfurt am Main from 2003 till 2006.[3] In 2001, Tillmans was awarded first prize in the competition for the design of the AIDS memorial for the City of Munich, whereupon the memorial was erected after his designs at the Sendlinger Tor. In 2011, Tillmans travelled to Haiti with the charity Christian Aid to document reconstruction work after the country's devastating earthquake one year before.[4]

Between 2009 and 2014, Tillmans is serving as an Artist Trustee of the Tate Board. He also is a member of the museum's Collection Committee and the Tate Britain Council.[5]



"Lutz & Alex sitting in the trees", 1992

Wolfgang Tillmans was initially known for his seemingly casual, sometimes snapshotlike portraits of friends (most notably, fashion designer Lutz Huelle and fellow artist Alexandra Bircken)[6] and other youth in his immediate surroundings and scene. His photos – from the Europride in London (1992) or the Love Parade in Berlin (1992) for example – appeared in magazines such as i-D, Spex, Interview, SZ-Magazin and Butt-Magazine, and have established his reputation as a prominent witness of a contemporary social movement. He was made co-editor of Spex in 1997.[7] For the Index Magazine, he shot covers and assignments, including images of John Waters, Gilbert & George, and Udo Kier.[8]

Tillmans was considered the “documentarian of his generation, especially that of the London club and gay scenes.” Half of his work is staged, with the artist choosing the clothes and the location, as well as setting his models up in their positions.[9] The series of his friends Lutz and Alex, also published in i-D in 1992, are considered important photographic documents of the 1990s. From 1992 to 1994 Tillmans lived and worked in London, moving to New York in 1994. During this time, he began to show more frequently, developing an exhibition style that consisted of nonhierarchical arrangements of unframed photographs pinned or taped onto the gallery’s walls. Color photographs are placed next to inkjet prints and next to postcards and magazine clippings of his own images, reaching almost to the ceiling and the floor.[10] He views each exhibition as a site-specific installation, often addressing the exhibition space as a larger composition.[11]

"Pictures, in order to see the world”[edit]

Wolfgang Tillmans’ photographic practice has since developed to encompass a wide array of genres. His portraits, still lifes, sky photographs (i.e. the Concorde series), astrophotography, aerial shots and landscapes were all motivated equally by aesthetic and political interests and in formulations of reality and truth claims – particularly in relation to homosexuality and gender identity.[citation needed] Tillmans puts it like this: “I take pictures, in order to see the world.” Tillmans produces his photographs in different sizes and formats in meticulous wall-installations, combining them with photocopies, magazine and newspaper clippings (particularly in the installation known as “Soldiers – The Nineties”). The photographs are sometimes taped directly onto the wall, presented in vitrines, or arranged on extensive table-installations (“truth study center”). Operating on the basis of the fundamental equality of all motifs and supports, through this continual re-arranging, repositioning, questioning and reinforcement, Tillmans avoids ascribing any ‘conclusions’ to his work and thus repeatedly subjects his own photographic vision to a perpetual re-contextualization.[citation needed]

In 2009, after Tillmans had been using an analog 50 mm Contax SLR camera almost exclusively for over two decades, he turned to digital photography.[12] In 2012, he described the corresponding change from using viewfinders to integrated camera monitors as "completely turning onto its head the psychology of photography, which has always been a dialogue between photographer, object and the imaginary image which one is envisioning, thinking, hoping for", whereas the higher resolution of digital photographies follows "a transformation in the whole world", according to Tillmans: "In recent years, everything has become HD, so I think it is inevitable that the overwhelming nature of this information density is reflected in my images. Hence, they are describing my feeling of perception quite well again today."[12]


The 56 photographs of equal dimensions that make up the Concorde Grid were taken in and around London as part of a commission for Tillmans’ exhibition at Chisenhale Gallery in 1997. They were shot from a wide range of places including private gardens, parks, railway tracks and the perimeter fence around Heathrow airport, recording the daily passing of the airplane.[13] Total Solar Eclipse Grid (1998), a set of which was included in his Turner Prize installation and is now in the permanent collection of the Tate, documents the spectacle of a solar eclipse. Each of the 21 photographs in the grid was taken during the eclipse of his immediate surroundings in a tropical locale, with varying degrees of light and detail.[14] Snow/Ice Grid (1999) is a grid of images of trampled and melting ice and snow.[15]


"Freischwimmer 26", 2003
Paper drop (window), 2006

Tillmans exhibited his first abstract and damaged pictures as a Parkett edition in 1998.[16] The edition, 60 unique works on color-negative photographic paper collected by the artist since he began colour printing in 1990,[17] was a combination of true darkroom mistakes and years of darkroom experimentation that they inspired.[15] The Silver works, which Tillmans has been creating since 1998, reflect the reaction of the photographic paper to light as well as mechanical and chemical processes. The name Silver arises from the dirt traces and silver salt stains that remain on the paper when the artist develops the photographs in a machine that is filled with water and has not been completely cleaned.[18] Since 2000, Tillmans has become increasingly interested in the chemical foundations of photographic material as well as its haptic and spatial possibilities. The "Conquistador" series of photographs were the first of these interventions to be exhibited.[17] Later works, created directly in the darkroom without the use of a camera and often largely accidental, (i.e. “Blushes”, "Mental Pictures", and “Freischwimmer”[19]), present photography as a self-referential medium—one that could serve as an experimental ground for the creation of a new type of image structure. These “abstract” works now appear next to the figurative photographs. In "Blushes", fine, thread-like lines, apparently drawn with light, swim over the surface of the photographic paper, and create delicate, fluid patterns.[20] Tillmans further explores the bounds of photography as a medium in his “paper drop” series (2001–8). Tillmans started to make ‘paper drop’ images depicting photographic paper specifically exposed to coloured light in his darkroom in 2001.[21] He creates extraordinary sculptural forms in photographic paper, then by photographing them returns them to the accustomed flatness of that same medium. Photography’s step from ‘picture’ to ‘object’ is best demonstrated in the works from the “Lighter” Series (2005–8),[22] in which the artist dropped the act of photographing and allowed the photographs - in their three-dimensional form - to only represent themselves,[23] recalling his ongoing series "Impossible Color" (1996–present). These colourful photo-paper works are folded, creased or otherwise manipulated, allowing for a subtle play with the material surface and the resulting illusion of lines and contrast. Contained under Plexiglas lids, they have a rather sculptural quality.[24]


"Market", 2012

Tillman's first exhibition in 1988 was composed exclusively of images that were created with the latest kind of monochrome laser copier. He himself regards these so-called Approach pictures (1987–1988) as "first work before I even owned a camera".[8] Over the years, Tillmans has often returned to this medium, which has remained a fixed component in his work. The ways that surface structure and image depth influence each other is shown in Wolfgang Tillmans’ large-format works whose original material is analogue photocopies (ongoing since 2006). Here he also references his earlier works from the end of the 1980s that started by experimenting with an old Canon photocopier. The uncontrolled contrasts and pigment particles in the images from these old machines are clear only after drastic enlargement (framed ca. 260 x 180 cm). The resulting effects are distanced but also concrete – created through not only the materiality of the printing process but also the play and variation of scale. With the analogue photocopy – probably the most ephemeral form of image (re)production – a system of values for images is brought into a critical light.

"Lighter V", 2006

Table works ("truth study center")[edit]

In 2005, at his major supporter Maureen Paley's gallery, Tillmans showed his large-scale display-case installation Truth Study Center. Going even further than in his wall-installations, Tillmans’ table works combine a diverse array of image formats and content. His own photographs are presented and arranged under glass next to extracts from books, newspapers, magazines, postcards, packaging and other found materials. The collage-like arrangements of the table displays produce an open-ness and potentiality in terms of aesthetics and content while asking the critical question about the interpretive possibilities of the visible in a global information-society. With that, claims of absolute (in particular religious) truth are caricatured as if Tillmans would like to put them to a kind of test (“truth study center”). The works draw attention to the exercise of power behind the ideologies of Islamic fundamentalism, Catholicism, and capitalism.[25]


Lights (Body) (2000–2002), a video installation featuring static shots of the light effects inside an empty dance club with the bass pulse of the ‘Hacker Remix' of ‘Don't be Light' by Air,[26] is the first work by the photographer using the medium of film.[27] The only indication of people on the crowded dance floor are the subtle vibrations and occasionally visible particles of dust.[28] In 2002, Tillmans filmed a video clip for the pop band Pet Shop Boys’ single "Home and Dry", composed almost entirely of shots documenting the mice living in the London Underground system.[3] The film Kopierer (2010) depicts an open color laser copy machine, the CLC 1100, in the act of copying documents over a period of ten minutes.

Music and art collaboration[edit]

In 2011, Tillmans collaborated with The Opiates by offering a range of photographic images to accompany their CD "Hollywood under the knife" and an EP of remixes.[29]

A fan of the 1980s experimental synthpop group Colourbox, Tillmans curated an exhibition dedicated to the group, Music of the Band (1982 - 1987), at his Between Bridges gallery in 2014, and also selected the tracklist and provided original artwork for a tie-in compilation of the same name. The exhibition was the first to be held in the gallery's dedicated Playback Room, where visitors can listen to Tillmans' music selections on high-end speakers.[30]

Between Bridges[edit]

Between April 2006 and late 2011, Tillmans maintained the non-profit exhibition space Between Bridges in the ground floor of his Bethnal Green studio, a former umbrella factory named Moarain House at 223 Cambridge Heath Road.[31] The project took its name from a photograph taken by the artist in 1999 and refers to the studio's physical location between two rail bridges.[32] The space was opened a show of works by the New York artist and activist David Wojnarowicz. In the small gallery he has developed a program of exhibitions with political art from other artists who he believes have not been given the proper attention they deserve, specifically in London.[33] Previous exhibitions include Isa Genzken, Jenny Holzer, the films of Len Lye and the photographs from the Center for Land Use Interpretation. In January 2014, Between Bridges relocated to a former artist studio and gallery in Tiergarten, Berlin.[34]


In 2000, Tillmans was the first photographer and also the first non-English artist to be awarded the Turner Prize. In 2009 he was awarded the Kulturpreis der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Photographie (The Culture Prize of the German Society for Photography).[35]


  • Wolfgang Tillmans. Frankfurt am Main: Portikus, 1995
  • Wer Liebe wagt lebt morgen. Ostfildern-Ruit: Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, 1996
  • Wolfgang Tillmans: Burg. ISBN 978-3822878811
    • Cologne: Taschen, 1998
    • Reissued as Wolfgang Tillmans, 2002
  • Wako Book 1999. Tokyo: Wako Works of Art, 1999
  • Portraits. Cologne: Walther König / D.A.P./Distributed Art Publishers, 2001. ISBN 978-1891024368
  • Aufsicht / View from Above. Ostfildern-Ruit: Hatje Cantz, 2001
  • AC: Isa Genzken/Wolfgang Tillmans. Cologne: Museum Ludwig, Walther König, 2001
  • if one thing matters, everything matters. London: Tate, 2003
  • Freischwimmer. Tokyo: Tokyo Opera City Gallery, 2004
  • Wolfgang Tillmans. Los Angeles. New Haven and London: Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, and Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, 2006. ISBN 0 300 12022 2[n 3]
  • Why We Must Provide HIV Treatment Information. London: HIV i-base, 2007. Photography by Wolfgang Tillmans.[n 4]
  • Sprengel Installation. Hannover: Sprengel Museum, 2007
  • Wolfgang Tillmans and Hans Ulrich Obrist. The Conversation Series, Vol. 6. Cologne: Walther König, 2007. ISBN 978-3865601339
  • Lighter. Ostfildern and Berlin: Hatje Cantz and Hamburger Bahnhof—Museum für Gegenwart—Berlin, 2008. ISBN 978-3-7757-2187-5
  • Wolfgang Tillmans: Interviews. Tokyo: Wako Works of Art, 2010
  • Wolfgang Tillmans. London: Serpentine Gallery, Koenig Books London, 2010[n 6]
  • Wolfgang Tillmans. Brochure. Liverpool: Walker Art Gallery, 2010[n 7]
  • Abstract Pictures. Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz, 2011
  • Zachęta Ermutigung. Zachęta Narodowa Galeria Sztuki, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf, 2011[n 8]
  • FESPA Digital / FRUIT LOGISTICA. Artist book. Cologne: Walther König, 2012


Tillmans at a book signing in 2007

Despite having already exhibited in Hamburg, in 1993 Tillmans held his first exhibition at the Galerie Buchholz in Cologne.[36] In 1995 his work was included at a show at the Serpentine Gallery in London, curated by Hans-Ulrich Obrist.[25] Tillmans' work has since been shown in large solo exhibitions at renowned European museums, for example the Kunsthalle Zürich (1995), Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid (1998), Museum Ludwig in Cologne (2001), Castello di Rivoli in Italy (2002), Palais de Tokyo in Paris (2002), the Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin (2008), and Serpentine Gallery in London (2010).

Tate Britain’s extensive mid-career retrospective of Tillmans’ work was shown in 2003. In 2006, MoMA PS1 presented Tillmans' first exhibition for an American museum. That same year, the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles mounted Tillman's first major retrospective in the US, which travelled to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C. His first South American exhibition was shown at the São Paulo Museum of Modern Art in 2012. In 2005 and in 2009, Tillmans was included in the Venice Biennale.

In 2004, the Portikus, Frankfurt, invited Tillmans to curate "Inventory / Scott King / Donald Urquhart", an exhibition presenting three artistic positions from London.[37] The Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, entrusted Tillmans with the role of a guest curator in 2008, inviting him to present a personal choice of works by Isa Genzken, Roberto Matta, and Ellsworth Kelly from the museum's collection.[38]

Tillmans is represented by Maureen Paley in London, Galerie Buchholz in Cologne and Berlin (since 1993), Galerie Chantal Crousel in Paris, Juana de Aizpuru in Madrid, and David Zwirner in New York. [39]

Selected solo exhibitions[edit]

  • 1995
    • Kunsthalle Zurich (exh. cat.)
    • Portikus, Frankfurt, Frankfurt am Main, Germany (exh. cat.)
  • 1997
    • "I Didn’t Inhale", Chisenhale Gallery, London
  • 2001
    • Isa Genzken, Wolfgang Tillmans, Museum Ludwig, Cologne, Germany (exh. cat.)
    • "View from Above/Aufsicht", Deichtorhallen Hamburg, Germany; Castello di Rivoli—Museo d’Arte
    • "Contemporanea, Rivoli", Italy; Palais de Tokyo, Paris; Louisiana Museum for moderne
  • 2003
    • Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem, Netherlands
    • if one thing matters, everything matters, Tate Britain, London (exh. cat.)
    • View From Above, Louisiana Museum for moderne kunst, Humlebœk, Denmark (exh. cat.)
  • 2004
    • Museum for Contemporary Art, Kanazawa, Japan
  • 2007
    • "Beugung", Kunstverein Munich, Munich
  • 2008
    • "Lighter": Hamburger Bahnhof Museum fur Gegenwart, Berlin (exh. cat.); Museo Tamayo, Mexico City, Mexico
  • 2011
    • "Danser sa vie", Centre Pompidou, Paris
    • "20 Jahre Gegenwart. MMK 1991 - 2011“, Museum für Moderne Kunst Frankfurt (MMK), Frankfurt am Main
    • "British Art Show", Hayward Gallery, London
    • "Photography Calling! Fotografie und Gegenwart", Sprengel Museum, Hannover (Germany)
    • Serpentine Gallery, London (exh. cat.)
  • 2012
    • Moderna Museet, Stockholm
    • Museo de Arte del Banco de la República, Bogotá
    • "Dark Sky", Adam Art Gallery, Wellington (New Zealand)
    • "Stedelijk Room", Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (permanent exhibition as part of the collection)
  • 2014
    • Manifesta 10, St. Petersburg
    • "(Mis) Understanding Photography", Folkwang Museum Essen, Germany


His work is represented internationally in collections including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Metropolitan Museum of Art; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum; the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Tate, London; Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid; Museum Ludwig, Cologne; the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam and Centre Pompidou, Paris.[40]


  1. ^ It can be downloaded from http://tillmans.co.uk/images/stories/pdf/wakobook2_web.pdf.
  2. ^ It can be downloaded from http://tillmans.co.uk/images/stories/pdf/wakobook3_web.pdf.
  3. ^ It can be downloaded from http://tillmans.co.uk/images/stories/pdf/WT_US_Tour_Catalogue_2006-07.pdf.
  4. ^ It can be downloaded from http://tillmans.co.uk/images/stories/pdf/HIV_book.pdf.
  5. ^ It can be downloaded from http://tillmans.co.uk/images/stories/pdf/wakobook4_low.pdf.
  6. ^ It can be downloaded from http://tillmans.co.uk/images/stories/pdf/SERPENTINE_CATALOGUE_web.pdf.
  7. ^ It can be downloaded from http://tillmans.co.uk/images/stories/pdf/2010_Tillmans_at_Walker_Art_Gallery_web.pdf.
  8. ^ It can be downloaded from http://tillmans.co.uk/images/stories/pdf/zacheta_catalogue_komplett_web.pdf.


  1. ^ 'Casual Beauty: Wolfgang Tillmans' Tate Magazin, Issue 5. Accessed 30 January 2011.
  2. ^ Wolfgang Tillmans, January 30 – March 13, 2010 Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York.
  3. ^ a b Wolfgang Tillmans, Guggenheim – Collection Online, guggenheim.org
  4. ^ In pictures: Wolfgang Tillmans in Haiti BBC News, 11 January 2011.
  5. ^ Current Tate Trustees: Wolfgang Tillmans Tate.
  6. ^ Ingeborg Wiensowksi (April 30, 2012), Textiles Werken Der Spiegel.
  7. ^ Wolfgang Tillmans 'Aufsicht' Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2001. Accessed 30 January 2011.
  8. ^ a b Bob Nickas, Wolfgang Tillmans Interview.
  9. ^ Wolfgang Tillmans, 1997, With Peter Halley and Bob Nickas Index Magazine.
  10. ^ Jerry Saltz (February 14, 2010), Developing New York Magazine.
  11. ^ Wolfgang Tillmans, October 22 – November 27, 2004 Regen Projects, Los Angeles.
  12. ^ a b Timo Feldhaus: Wolfgang Tillmans – Der Fotograf über HD-Welten, Digitalfotografie und Berliner Touristen de:Bug 165, September 2012 (in German)
  13. ^ Wolfgang Tillmans: Concorde Grid, 1997 Tate Collection.
  14. ^ German Photography 1960 - 2012: A Survey, 1 March - 5 May 2012 Ben Brown Fine Arts, Hong Kong.
  15. ^ a b Wolfgang Tillmans, January 20 - February 24, 2001 Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York.
  16. ^ Dominic Eichler (September 23, 2008), Look, Again Frieze.
  17. ^ a b Wolfgang Tillmans: If One Thing Matters, Everything Matters, June 6 - September 14, 2003 Tate Britain, London.
  18. ^ WOLFGANG TILLMANS: Neue Welt, September 1 – November 4, 2012 Kunsthalle Zürich.
  19. ^ "Hirshhorn Museum presents 'Wolfgang Tillmans': East coast debut of major survey", Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, 17 April 2007. Accessed 29 January 2011.
  20. ^ Wolfgang Tillmans: If One Thing Matters, Everything Matters, June 6 - September 14, 2003 Tate Britain, London.
  21. ^ Wolfgang Tillmans, Chisenhale Edition, 2011 Chisenhale Gallery, London.
  22. ^ Lauren Hinkson, Wolfgang Tillmans: Lighter 46, 2008 Guggenheim Collection.
  23. ^ Tillmans, Chisenhale Edition, 2011 Chisenhale Gallery, London.
  24. ^ Wolfgang Tillmans: half page, October 23 – December 6, 2008 Regen Projects, Los Angeles.
  25. ^ a b Liz Jobey (June 26, 2010), Wolfgang Tillmans: the lightness of being The Guardian.
  26. ^ Jeffry Cudlin (June 8, 2007), Wolfgang Tillmans tweaked artistic conventions to comment on the everyday world Washington City Paper.
  27. ^ Wolfgang Tillmans, Lights (Body) 2000-2002, August 2 - 23, 2002 Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York.
  28. ^ Wolfgang Tillmans: If One Thing Matters, Everything Matters, June 6 - September 14, 2003 Tate Britain, London.
  29. ^ Disco Activisto Records. (2 September 2011). "Wolfgang Tillmans collabs with the Opiates". artdesigncafe. Retrieved 13 September 2011.
  30. ^ The Guardian. (12 September 2014). "Wolfgang Tillmans' music playback room".
  31. ^ Christof Siemes (May 31, 2007), Atelierbesuch: Wolfgang Tillmans Die Zeit.
  32. ^ Francesca Colussi (October 12, 2011), Marte Eknæs at Between Bridges Domus.
  33. ^ Louise Gray, "Between Bridges" db artmag.
  34. ^ Gabriela Walde (December 29, 2013), Wolfgang Tillmans eröffnet neue Galerie in Berlin-Kreuzberg Berliner Morgenpost.
  35. ^ Wolfgang Tillmans kulturnews.de
  36. ^ Wolfgang Tillmans Fundación Telefónica, Madrid.
  37. ^ Exhibition 126: Inventory / Scott King / Donald Urquhart, curated by Wolfgang Tillmans, May 8 - 13 June, 2004) Portikus, Frankfurt.
  38. ^ 'Tegenwoordigheid van Geest / Presence of Mind' A choice from the collection by Wolfgang Tillmans Stedelijk Museum, 17 June 2008. Accessed 30 January 2011.
  39. ^ "David Zwirner Represents Wolfgang Tillmans," David Zwirner, 27 February 2014 [1]
  40. ^ Wolfgang Tillmans: central nervous system, 14 October – 24 November 2013 Maureen Paley, London.