A way to share and manage lots.
$250,000 - 350,000
sold for $275,000
Galerie Buchholz, Berlin
Acquired from the above by the present owner
“I see myself using photography in the way any artist looks at the world with the means of his or her own time.” – Wolfgang Tillmans
Ethereally unfolding itself in front of the viewer with epic gravitas, Wolfgang Tillman’s Freischwimmer 154 presents a majestic panorama of simultaneously infinite and microscopic space. The atmospheric image is electrified by undulating black and deep blue lines that crest like waves across the glowing field, leaving behind grey opaque trails of diffused pigment as traces of their powerful velocity. While evocative of William J. Turner’s existential landscape horizons, Freischwimmer 154 remains resolutely abstract – conjuring a mental, rather than literal, state of mind as it pushes the limits of visibility. Enlarged to monumental scale, the photographic work teases the eye with the promise of revelation. Whereas enlargement traditionally reveals detail, here, however, precisely the opposite is engendered. Encouraging the gaze to wander, our perception begins to “swim” to an illusionary place where nothing is conceptually defined. Executed in 2010, Freischwimmer 154 represents a key touchstone within Tillman’s acclaimed Freischwimmer series, of which other examples are prominently housed in such public institutions as the Städel Museum, Frankfurt, the Museum of Modern Art, New York and the Fondation Beyeler, Basel. It epitomizes the Turner Prize winner’s nearly three-decade long engagement with the materiality of photography that was celebrated at his major solo exhibitions at Tate Modern, London, and the Fondation Beyeler, Basel, both in 2017.
Since the mid-1980s, Tillmans has relentlessly pushed the boundaries of the photographic medium. Challenging the indexical nature traditionally associated with photography, his abstract and representational photographic bodies of work each in their own way put forward the notion of the photograph as object, rather than as a record of reality. While Tillmans already explored issues of surface and scale with his early photocopier experiments, the Freischwimmer series exemplifies his more sustained engagement with camera-less abstract photography since the turn of the millennium. Though Tillmans has remained relatively elusive about the exact process behind the creation of his camera-less works, he describes his abstract pictures as belonging to certain “families” grouped together based on the specific techniques used in their making. Tillman’s Freischwimmer series are executed in the darkroom without a camera. The series’ German title refers to the level of swimming proficiency attained by being able to swim for 15 minutes without any support. While evoking aquatic and liquid associations, Tillmans has emphasized that “the name doesn’t relate to the fluids used in the production…These are images that I create with my hands and with tools that emit light” (Wolfgang Tillmans, quoted in “Interview with Wolfgang Tillmans”, Vernissage TV, June 17, 2014, online).
Whereas Tillmans exploited the properties of mineral-chemical reactions in his abstract photographic Silver series, he here plays with the light sensitivity of photographic paper. In doing so, he takes the etymology of the word “photography”, which in Greek means to “draw with light” as a literal point of departure. Expanding upon the photogram experiments of László Moholy-Nagy, Man Ray and György Kepes, amongst others, Tillmans uses a light pen to skillfully manipulate light as though it were painterly pigment. At the same time, he characteristically allows for the element of chance to enter his composition. As Tillmans has commented, “what connects all my work is finding the right balance between intention and chance, doing as much as I can and knowing when to let go” (Wolfgang Tillmans, quoted in “Wolfgang Tillmans in conversation with Dominic Eicher”, Frieze, issue 118, October 2008, online).
With works such as Freischwimmer 154, Tillmans essentially probes century-old questions of visual representation. As Tillmans emphasized, “I have never regarded the Old Masters as completely out of my reach or my real experience. …There are variations in how we use a tool to represent a wave—for instance with painting or photography—but we are still looking at the same subject in different moments in history” (Wolfgang Tillmans, quoted in “Wolfgang Tillmans in conversation with Riccardo Conti”, Mousse Magazine, online). In 2014, Tillmans was notably invited by the Fondation Beyeler to select works from their permanent collection to show in conjunction with the foundation’s recently acquired Ostgut Freischwimmer, 2004. Putting works by Henri Matisse, Max Ernst and Pablo Picasso in dialogue with his own work, Tillmans explained the conceptual parallels between the works of the great masters of Modernism and his own photographic abstractions: “It was interesting that in the end I didn’t chose other completely abstract pictures”, Tillmans reflected, “….although the Matisse stands on the edge of complete abstraction, there is an obvious reality to it. And I also believe that the two Picasso portraits go very well together with the suggestion of reality in my Freischwimmer pictures, because the eye understands them as photographic in a way. For the brain, photographic has something to do with reality…so this results in a good tension” (Wolfgang Tillmans, “Interview with Wolfgang Tillmans”, Vernissage TV, June 17, 2014, online). As Tillmans continued to explain, he exploits the desire of the eye to recognize reality in photographic images by subverting this expectation in his depiction of non-representational matter. For Tillmans, these works ultimately are pictures that necessitated the use of photography as a medium to achieve this very conceptual tension. It is in such works as Freischwimmer 154 that Tillman’s conceptual rigor becomes apparent, brilliantly underlining how he uses photography "in the way any artist looks at the world with the means of his or her own time” (Wolfgang Tillmans, quoted in “Wolfgang Tillmans in conversation with Riccardo Conti”, Mousse Magazine, 2017, online).
German • 1968
Since the early 1990s, Wolfgang Tillmans has pushed the boundaries of the photographic medium. Challenging the indexical nature traditionally associated with photography, his abstract and representational photographic bodies of work each in their own way put forward the notion of the photograph as object—rather than as a record of reality. While achieving his breakthrough with portraits and lifestyle photographs, documenting celebrity culture as well as LGBTQ communities and club culture, since the turn of the millennium the German photographer has notably created abstract work such as the Freischwimmer series, which is made in the darkroom without a camera.
Seamlessly integrating genres, subject matters, techniques and exhibition strategies, Tillmans is known for photographs that pair playfulness and intimacy with a persistent questioning of dominant value and hierarchy structures of our image-saturated world. In 2000, Tillmans was the first photographer to receive the prestigious Turner Prize.
$250,000 - 350,000
sold for $275,000
New York Auction 16 November 2017