Going into the exhibition with the expectation that I would see a whole load of fine art bullshit, with reference to my bad Tillmans experience at the Serpentine in London 2 years ago, I was pleasantly surprised at Bogotá’s success in taking flight to join the international art scene with her world-class exhibitions. Before going to the show, you’d better consider seriously because the experience will change your way of seeing everyday things forever.
The show starts off with his works on everyday lives and slowly morphs into his fine art photography. Tillmans shows off his unique pair of eyes for life in works such as ‘Anders pulling splinter from his foot’, 2004. The half-naked man’s curled back, skinny arms and rib-bones form curious lines on the picture. Together with the stark paleness of his skin, the organic lines spark life against the dark herringbones of the floor.
Anders pulling splinter from his foot, 2004
From the ‘Blushes’ series
The fine art status of Tillmans’ photos is embodied in their subject matter. There are abstract lines formed by photographic emulsion made to look like ink that has been sprinkled in a pool of water, and at the very precious moment he captured the movements of the coloured curves. Other Kline-like pure coloured surfaces touch the viewer with a tingling sense of Kantian aesthetics. Tillman has successfully transgressed photography by using the medium to achieve artistic expressions that are more commonly conceived by paint, the traditional medium of ‘fine art’. These abstract wall-height photos in the scale of Romantic historical paintings that are found normally in heavy-weight museums like the Louvre denote the significance of photography as a medium and contest against the traditional art form.
Even though Tillmans was toying with formalism with these extra-large (up to 4m x 2m) prints, he wasn’t necessarily trying to give his photos any self-worth since none of them is framed. Some have been simply glued on the wall, others are held up by office binder clips. The way the works were displayed, in their raw form, paper still curled, echoed with the simplicity of the subject matters and the beauty of every-day life.
There were also intimately humorous ‘modern’ versions of still lives. Instead of the deathly skull, fruits or musical instruments, you have an ashtray full of cigarettes, batteries, and ashes.. His passion for ‘seeing life’ is conveyed through the close-up look of a Toucan, and the fly that is eating a cooked crab. The jeans hung on a stair post become the symbol of man.
Tillmans’ landscapes are not your regular idyllic scenes. The waterfall that has been held still by the camera becomes an exploration of patterns, unsettling your perception. ‘Snow/Ice Grid’ 1999, formed by 8 different micro shots of ice that you find in any street corners, makes a sublime landscape in its own right.
Snow/Ice Grid, 1994
Apart from forms and colours, Tillmans’ diverse interests in life include gender roles and the ways different societies react towards and handle (by ‘handle’, I really meant ‘execute’..) unwelcomed sexuality (by taking the issue to the graves of the proponents).
An excellently-curated exhibition, it neatly demonstrates Tillmans’ artistic breadth and also the artist’s inspirations with the inclusion of newspaper clippings. Tillmans transforms the mundane and banal to fine art, showing us that there is art in everyday lives, waiting for us to discover.