Wolfgang Tillmans: ′A 21st-century Renaissance man′

Why German photographer Wolfgang Tillmans is a 21st-century Renaissance man


Opposites attract

War, gay rights and the refugee crisis - these are all subjects referenced in Wolfgang Tillmans' art. The photographer makes his views public and shares his political opinion. But not all of his work is serious. He also knows how to take a lighthearted look at everyday life - as he does in these images, where he makes fun of today's design standards.


Monochrome poetry

Some of Tillmans' images abide by "less is more" as a guideline, like this masterpiece in monochrome hues. Wolfgang Tillmans likes experimenting with colors and shapes, making his photography often highly poetic.


A whole new world

Other work by Tillmans are busy, like this image of a market in Africa. His carefully composed representation of reality can seem almost staged or painted. The artist's extensive travels have expanded his horizons - and brought him many new photographic motifs.


Life's simple pleasures

Like many of Tillmans' pictures, this one also captures the joy of the moment. Two young men by the names of Juan Paplo and Karl are enjoying their cigarettes and relaxing in a forest while chatting with each other.


Brimming with life

Life can be found in unexpected placed - even between dusty cobblestones. The German artist (pictured) focuses on nature taking back what belongs to it in some of his works. The Tate Modern celebrates Tillmans as one of the most exciting artists of our time.


Protesting Brexit

Wolfgang Tillmans is known for getting involved in current issues. Most recently, he designed a series of posters against Britain's exit from the European Union. The combination of poetry and politics is characteristic of his work.


Profane and profound

An intersection somewhere in the urban jungle of London appears to upset Wolfgang Tillmans. His picture "Scheiss Häuser" expresses his disdain towards skyrocketing construction across London and elsewhere, making cityscapes increasingly generic and soulless. The title, profane as it may be, means "f***ing houses."


Fly on a crustacean

The title of this image, highlighting an open lobster with a fly resting on top, is "Astro Crusto." This colorful, modern still life is a reminder that, in the end, humankind can't have control over life and death.


A craftsman and an artist

Wolfgang Tillmans plays with focus in this image. The subject of his composition: a sheet of paper, turned onto itself. In his drive to create striking images, Tillmans never compromises or sacrifices the craft of photography for the perfect shot. His exhibition at the Tate Modern continues through June 11, 2017.

Wolfgang Tillmans didn't exactly reinvent the art of photography, but he has managed to make it more political. The Tate Modern in London is celebrating the German photographer with a special exhibition.

"Tillmans does not take pictures - he makes pictures." Chris Dercon, exiting director of the Tate Modern in London and incoming director of the Volksbühne theater in Berlin, gave perhaps the most fitting description of Wolfgang Tillmans.

Indeed, the German photographer's is meticulously organized and premeditated. No single detail is left to coincidence; no image, no catalogue and no exhibit. And he has a way of connecting political themes with poetry like no other.

Dercon is one of the co-curators of the Wolfgang Tillmans exhibition at the Tate Modern, which highlights the artist's work since 2003. His successor at the Tate Modern, Frances Morris, meanwhile said that Tillmans "is one of the most exciting, interesting and important artists at the moment."

Born in the western German city of Remscheid, Wolfgang Tillmans was the first non-British artist to receive the coveted Turner Prize in 2000.

Through June 11, 2017, the Tate Modern is showcasing Tillmans' work in 14 rooms, featuring a mixture of portraits, still lifes and abstract art, and following his journey from analogue to digital photography. Video installations and music projects are also part of the multi-faceted exhibition.

The many faces of Wolfgang Tillmans

There's a lot on display, from wall-to-wall coastal landscapes to the image of a naked grown man in the fetal position. Then there's the picture of a little plant sprouting out from grooves in between moss-covered cobblestones.

Deutschland Wolfgang Tillmans at Tate Modern Gallery

The show presents not only Tillmans' works, but also his artistic motivation

Another photograph shows a set of scrunched up linens against a black background imitating clouds. To round out the show, there's also a series of experiments with color and shape, which Tillmans created in his workshop in London, where he's been living for many years.

To gain some insight into Tillmans' creative genius, the Tate Modern dedicated one of the gallery rooms to exploring the things that inspire the artists, with displays highlighting a cornucopia of newspaper clippings, artistic studies and other influences.

This unusual documentation shows the level of thinking that goes into Tillmans' work; from assembly lines at IKEA kitchen factories to war crimes immediately after the invasion of Iraq, these sources trace Tillmans' concerns.

'Tilmans has an eye for the world'

He executes his political messages intelligently, always trying to hold a mirror up to the world. Even if some might consider his messages to be subjective, Tillmans makes up for it by approaching the key issues of the day in a poetic manner. Most recently, the artist got involved in UK politics by designing anti-Brexit posters. These are also featured at the Tate Modern show.

Related Subjects

The museum does great justice to a versatile artist who is almost as recognized for his social conscience as he is for his art. In the words of co-curator Decon: "(Tillmans) has an eye for the world. He's a Renaissance man for the 21st century."