Wolfgang Tillmans - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Tuesday, October 20, 2020 | Phillips

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  • Overview

    Distilling vertical strands of black matter across an abstract ground of meandering reds, Freischwimmer 27 compellingly exemplifies Wolfgang Tillmans eponymous series, which explores the visual qualities and parameters of light as a medium. Though the present image has been produced without a camera, a subject, or a negative, the artist asserts that it represents, along with its sister Freischwimmer works, the purest form of photography. To create these prints, Tillmans exposes photographic paper in a darkroom, digitises the result on a computer, and enlarges the luminographs to monumental proportions. Subsequently, he presents them as unframed inkjet prints, or large framed mounted prints, in fine producing thin reels of floating colour, misting into opaque clouds of pigment. Musing on the irreducibly important element of chance in his mechanical technique, Tillmans remarked, ‘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’.1 Having just had a major survey at WIELS, Brussels, in 2020, following two major solo exhibitions in 2018 at Tate Modern, London, and the Beyeler Foundation, Basel, Tillmans will once again be the subject of institutional acclaim on the occasion of his upcoming retrospective slated to take place at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 2021.
    'The true authenticity of photographs for me is that they usually manipulate and lie about what is in front of the camera, but never lie about the intentions behind the camera.' —Wolfgang Tillmans 

    Borne from the theoretical synthesis of water and light, Freischwimmer owes its name to the swimming certificate German children are given at a beginner's level. ‘Literally, Freischwimmer means something like “swimming freely”’, the artist explained. ‘And as the title suggests, and the work intimates, a sense of fluidity is evoked in the mind of the viewer even though these pictures were essentially made “dry” – only with light and my hand’.2 A visual enigma, profoundly non-representational in subject matter, the present work nonetheless contains a quasi-figurative reality, as it forms the loose delineation of a natural landscape, awash with gusts of wind and mist formations. A sublime example from Tillmans’ now instantly recognisable series, Freischwimmer 27 was conceived the same year as the artist's major solo exhibition at Tate Britain, London, and just a few years following his reception of the Turner Prize, in 2000. 


    Gyorgy Kepes, Untitled (gelatin silver print), gelatin silver print, Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields, USA. © Estate of György Kepes (Imre Kepes and Juliet Kepes Stone), Image: Bridgeman Images.

    At once specific and abstract, realistic and dauntingly surreal, Tillmans’ overall oeuvre creates a sense of otherworldliness that nonetheless departs from the everyday, exalting the earth’s primal fruits — a skyscape, a body of water, an arrangement of perishable produce — seen and interpreted by the artist’s surveying eye. His interest in the universe, the cosmos, and other terrestrial things began early – at age 10, specifically, when Tillmans found a book on astronomy nestled in his parents’ bookshelf, initiating an unrelenting fascination for what lay both inside and outside the human body. ‘A lot of people are scared by infinity, [but] it gave me something to hold onto’, he said.3 Freischwimmer 27 beautifully exemplifies Tillmans’ poetic vision of the complexities that make up the world; through the use of light, it forms a unique, cosmic entity comparable to György Kepes’ experimental, photographic landscapes.


    Wolfgang Tillmans in Focus



    Wolfgang Tillmans, in conversation with Dominic Eicher, Frieze, issue 118, October 2008, online.
    2 Wolfgang Tillmans, quoted in Jan Verwoert, Wolfgang Tillmans, London, 2002, n.p.

    Wolfgang Tillmans, quoted by Jacqui Palumbo, ‘Wolfgang Tillmans Wants You to Find Spirituality in Photography’, Artsy, 28 February 2020, online.

    • Provenance

      Galería Juana de Aizpuru, Madrid
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2006

    • Exhibited

      Santiago de Compostela, Centro Galego de Arte Contemporánea, Pequena historia da fotografía, 12 March - 3 May 2009, pp. 104, 128, 150 (illustrated, p. 106, 128, 150, erroneously titled and dated Freischswimmer 11, 2004)
      Tenerife Espacio de las Artes, Casi el azar: Óscar Domínguez, la decalcomanía y sus derivas, 26 July - 2 December 2018 (erroneously titled Freischswimmer 11)

    • 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

Property from an Important European Collection


Freischwimmer 27

signed and numbered 'Wolfgang Tillmans 1/1' on the accompanying artist's label
240 x 180 cm (94 1/2 x 70 7/8 in.)
Executed in 2003, this work is number 1 from an edition of 1 plus 1 artist's proof.

Full Cataloguing

£210,000 - 300,000 

Contact Specialist

Kate Bryan
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+44 20 7318 4026

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 20 October 2020