Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear
The Museum of Modern Art
September 12, 2022 – January 01, 2023
The Museum of Modern Art will present Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear, the artist’s first museum survey in New York, from September 12, 2022 through January 1, 2023, in the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Center for Special Exhibitions. Unique groupings of approximately 350 of Tillmans’s photographs, videos, and multimedia installations will be displayed according to a loose chronology throughout the Museum’s sixth floor. Informed by new scholarship and eight years of dialogue with the artist, the exhibition will highlight how Tillmans’s profoundly inventive, philosophical, and creative approach is both informed by and designed to highlight the social and political causes for which he has been an advocate throughout his career.
Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear is organized by Roxana Marcoci, the newly-named David Dechman Senior Curator of Photography, with Caitlin Ryan, Curatorial Assistant, and Phil Taylor, former Curatorial Assistant, Department of Photography.
From the outset of his career, Wolfgang Tillmans (b. 1968, Germany) has revolutionized the prevailing conventions of photographic presentation, making connections between his pictures in response to a given context and activating the space of the exhibition by hanging photographs in a corner, above a doorframe, on a free-standing column, or next to a fire extinguisher. In developing his own language for these overall installations, Tillmans’s practice verges into a sculptural dimension. The decisive logic of his practice is a visual democracy, best summarized by his phrase “If one thing matters, everything matters.”
Tillmans considers the role of the artist to be, among other things, that of “an amplifier” for social awareness. His approach to making pictures foregrounds the ideas of human connections and togetherness, with his work reflecting a deep care for his subjects. Tillmans has pictured survival and loss amid the AIDS crisis, mined the media’s aestheticization of military forces, given voice to LGBTQ+ communities around the world, and tracked the diffusion of globalism and, in so doing, contested claims to absolute truth.
“Tillmans’s value system revolves around some central questions,” said Marcoci. “What can pictures make visible? What can one know at all? Who deserves attention? How can one connect with other people? How might we foster solidarity? In what do art’s political potential and ethical worth reside?”
Spanning the artist’s production from the 1980s to the present, MoMA’s survey will present iconic photographs alongside his rarely seen significant bodies of work. From ecstatic images of nightlife to cameraless abstractions, sensitive portraits to architectural studies, documents of social movements to windowsill still lifes, and astronomical phenomena to intimate nudes, Tillmans has explored seemingly every genre of photography imaginable, continually experimenting with how to make pictures meaningful.
To look without fear will present these bodies of work and reflect Tillmans’s distinct strategies of display from unframed prints taped precisely to the wall to constellations of images grouped on tabletops as photocopies, video projections, and magazine pages. “I see my installations as a reflection of the way I see, the way I perceive or want to perceive my environment,” Tillmans has said. “They’re also always a world that I want to live in.” Such attention to the physical manifestation of his work extends from a longstanding investigation of the poetic possibilities of the photographic medium.
Following its presentation at MoMA, Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear will travel to the Art Gallery of Ontario (spring–summer 2023) and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (autumn 2023–winter 2024).
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