Wolfgang Tillmans - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Wednesday, June 28, 2017 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York
    Private Collection, New York
    Phillips, London, 10 October 2012, lot 1
    Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    A sustained meditation of observation and perception, Wolfgang Tillmans’ hypnotic Freischwimmer #84 belongs to an iconic and captivating series epitomising the 2000 Turner Prize winner’s pioneering and innovative style. Similar works were the subject of Tate Modern's recent Wolfgang Tillmans exhibition and are currently on show at the Fondation Beyeler, celebrating his iconic and recognisable oeuvre on an international platform. This marks the Fondation's first extensive engagement with photography.

    Detonating from the centre of the composition, an immense explosion ignites in Freischwimmer #84, spreading Tillmans’ majestic and ethereal economy of line. As though galvanised by osmosis, a density of erupting emerald dye morphs and diffuses into pastel lime. Simultaneously, thin reels of colour float and curve, misting into opaque clouds of pigment before unravelling and dissolving across the surface of the image. An enigma, the present work is non-representational yet it contains a quasi-figurative reality; the composition alludes to the natural elements – a landscape drawn into abstraction awash with gusts of wind and exquisite mist formations. Referring to German levels of swimming proficiency, the title immediately directs audiences toward the aquatic, through viscous liquid and its biochemical reactions. The majestic void of the composition and swirling illuminated rays question the relationship between light and perspective. Similar to Sigmar Polke’s later Dispersion pictures, the work masterfully celebrates the delicate nature of perception and the power of the image as a communicative tool. Manipulating and reshaping art historical preconceptions of visual material, the artist utilises chemistry to critique the puzzles and impossibilities of illusion in contemporary media. An alchemist, Tillmans transforms and employs the image to question the viewer’s subjective means of comprehension.

    Divorcing photography from its essential apparatus, Tillmans exposes photographic paper, manipulating light as though it were painterly pigment. Through the use of a light pen, the artist sculpts and traces his subject, the plane of the work recording movement in time. The irregularities of light leaving the composition are open to unintended yet harmonious optical effects. Chance, therefore, plays a crucial role in his mechanical technique. As Tillmans comments, ‘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 in conversation with Dominic Eicher, Frieze, issue 118, October 2008, online).

    ‘I like the idea of the photograph as something that joins me to the world, that connects me to others, that I can share. I can get in touch with somebody when they recognize a feeling…it’s the sense that “I’m not alone.” That’s the driving force behind sharing these things—that I want to find connections in people. I believe that every thought and idea has to be somehow rendered through personal experience, and then generalized’ (Wolfgang Tillmans, in ‘Gil Blank and Wolfgang Tillmans in conversation’, Influence, issue 2, 2004, p. 119). Interrogating the very nature of photography, Freischwimmer #84 echoes the avant-garde experiments of Man Ray and György Kepes, whilst demonstrating an affinity to modernist Colour Field painting. Like his predecessors who challenged the traditional superiority of painting over photography, Tillmans’ present composition mediates these different mediums, the motivation and technique emphasising the importance of the artwork itself. Creating an illusionary plane, the artist maintains a surrealist stance whilst addressing contemporary issues of perception. Tillmans does not seek to depict reality, rather he interprets and recreates it, painting with light to achieve a unique visual lexicon free of hierarchy and ideology.

  • Artist Biography

    Wolfgang Tillmans

    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.

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Freischwimmer #84

signed 'Wolfgang Tillmans' on a gallery label affixed to the reverse
c-print, in artist's frame
238.8 x 181 cm (94 x 71 1/4 in.)
Executed in 2004, this work is number 1 from an edition of 1 plus 1 artist's proof.

£200,000 - 300,000 ‡ ♠

Sold for £605,000

Contact Specialist
Henry Highley
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+ 44 20 7318 4061 [email protected]

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 29 June 2017