Wolfgang Tillmans - Disruptors: Evening Sale of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Design and Watches Hong Kong Thursday, May 25, 2023 | Phillips
  • “There is this looking at the world as shapes and patterns and colours that have meaning, and you can’t deny the superficial because the superficial is what meets the eye. The content can never be disconnected from the surface, and this active interest in surface can never be disregarded from the good art that we admire.”
    — Wolfgang Tillmans

    The oeuvre of German photographer Wolfgang Tillmans hosts a panoply of genres, from portraiture to still life, landscape to abstraction. In this multi-faceted practice, he navigates the complex interplay between the photographic medium and the world it captures, bringing forth a highly unique and nuanced vision that challenges conventional notions of photography and representation. Through his evocative and sensual photographs, Tillmans explores the intersections of form, colour, texture, and space, inviting viewers to engage with the medium in a deeply perceptual and aesthetic manner. Drawing on the legacy of conceptual art and the postmodern condition, Tillmans photography not only redefines the very boundaries of representation but also poses fundamental questions about the nature of seeing, perception, and subjectivity in the contemporary world.


    A Marriage of the Minute and the Monumental


    Phillips is pleased to offer two mature works by the artist: Paper Drop London II (lot 343) and Paper Drop Studio I (lot 342). In these works, Tillmans employs an ontological approach to his 'paper drop' series that captures the elusive power of photography through embracing the medium's ability to embody his singular perspective and sensual outlook on life, as well as his fascination with visual curiosity.
    Both executed in 2011, the former marks a homecoming to his fundamental interest in the physical creation of images: an obsession that took root in his earliest works, crafted with a Xerox photocopier in the mid-1980s. Now as an accomplished artist, the photograph is a serene and reflective composition, a tranquil break in the midst of his rich and abundant practice. Tillmans explains that his fascination with making pictures that do not directly depict came about in the late 1990s, a time when he perceived an overwhelming flood of images in the world. With a compulsion to slow down how one consumed picture, he sought new images that would throw a wrench in the spokes of conventional photography.



    Wolfgang Tillmans discusses his practice 


    And yet, in its radical depiction of paper and medium, Paper Drop London II also represents a development of another important body of work by Tillmans - his photographs of clothing. Teeming with the electric friction of implied romantic encounters, longing and loss, his close-up images of jeans, underwear and t-shirts are among his most poignant and emotionally charged works. Yet they, like Paper Drop London II, are also informed by a careful consideration of the photographic interplay between flatness, depth, and surface. The product of this negotiation is an allure that is as conceptual as it is physical. 
    Paper Drop Studio I is a striking illustration that engages with abstraction, figuration, and the photographic medium. The grandiose composition, condensed into an intimate scale, portrays a sheet of photographic paper that has been folded to form a teardrop-shaped aperture when viewed from the side. With a shallow depth of field, Tillmans captures the interior shadows and glints of this form that appear like an astral, painterly abstract haze enclosed by the sharp edges of the paper. The blurred background, with its neutral tones blending seamlessly into each other, provides minimal context for the subject. Tillmans’ clever manipulation of selective focus and colossal scale gives rise to ambiguity, prompting the viewer to question the nature of the image. Is it an abstract work, a figurative image, or even a photograph at all? By foregrounding the intricate objecthood of photography and its relationship to the three-dimensional world, Tillmans celebrates this playful uncertainty, and grants agency to the theatricality of the work by allowing us to define its very essence. 
    By employing photographic paper as his subject, he turns his lens onto himself as a way, as a mirror of his own being as an artist. As he recalls of the first ‘paper drop’ work, conceived in 2001, “for the first time I turned the interest in the object itself, the photo as an object, into a photo of a photo”ii. As with all of Tillmans’ work, both Paper Drop London II and Paper Drop Studio I is a sumptuous melange of visual desire and a cerebral investigation into the nature, purpose and future of photography as an artistic medium.


    Visual Ecstasy

    While these abstract images may seem distinct from his iconic photographs of friends, lovers, and the European house music scene, they are all born of the same animated visual interest. “The mobility of the eye is such a fundamental treasure that we have,’ he enthuses, ‘and that coexists with sensation. On the dance floor, you are totally in reality, while also experiencing this dream imagery of changing colours and wet surfaces of skin. Sometimes it’s the shadow outline in the strobe light, and in another moment it’s the closeup of an armpit that you’re looking into. I’m not photographing all the time, but it’s something that I actually see all the time, and not just on the dance floor. It’s this ongoing coexistence which makes life sensational. The eyes have this ability to flip around what they see from one second to another, to see something as an object, and then as a design. That’s really liberating, and I try to convey that in my work, that your eyes are free and you are free to use them”i.
    Tillmans has a profound comprehension of the wondrous capabilities of our eyes. He recognises that they possess the remarkable ability to transform what they see, a magical quality that he effortlessly captures in his work. With unparalleled artistry, he harnesses the fluid nature of perception, showcasing its ever-shifting character in his masterful photographs. Paper Drop London II and Paper Drop Studio celebrates this perceptual freedom and moves between design and object with the endless pleasure of an optical illusion. With an unbreakable commitment to the very foundation of his craft and creative process, Tillmans restages old and new works together, creating a dynamic interplay of shifting visual relationships and meaning.



    Collector’s Digest


    • 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.

    • Phillips established a new world auction record for Tillmans with Freischwimmer #84, selling for £605,000 in June 2017 in London.

    • In 2017, Tate Modern held a major survey exhibition of Tillmans’s work. Later that year, solo shows of Tillmans’s work were on view at the Fondation Beyeler in Basel, marking the institution’s first comprehensive examination of photography as a medium.

    • A major traveling solo exhibition of Tillmans’s work, To look without fear, opened at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, in April 2023. The presentation originated at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, in September 2022 and will subsequently travel to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

    • Work by the artist is held in museum collections worldwide, including: the Art Institute of Chicago; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; Hirshhorn. Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Moderna Museet, Stockholm; Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago; amongst others. 


    i Wolfgang Tillmans, quoted in Bob Nickas, ‘Wolfgang Tillmans’, Interview, 7 September 2011, online 
    ii Wolfgang Tillmans, artist’s talk at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste, Munich, 27 October 2011

    • Provenance

      Galerie Buchholz, Berlin
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • 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.

      View More Works


paper drop (London) II

signed, titled, numbered and dated '"paper drop (London) II" ph 05/2011 pr WT 03/2018 7/10+1 Wolfgang Tillmans' on the reverse
inkjet print
40.5 x 30.5 cm. (15 7/8 x 12 in.)
Photographed in 2011 and printed in 2018, this work is number 7 from an edition of 10 plus 1 artist's proof.

Full Cataloguing

HK$100,000 - 150,000 

Sold for HK$139,700

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Disruptors: Evening Sale of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Design and Watches

Hong Kong Auction 25 May 2023