It’s Basel’s Turn With Wolfgang Tillmans

BY Katrina Kufer / Jun 15 2017 / 20:16 PM

The Fondation Beyeler hosts its first large-scale photography exhibition featuring Wolfgang Tillmans and holds its own in the art fair fray

It’s Basel’s Turn With Wolfgang Tillmans
Image courtesy Galerie Buchholz, Berlin/Cologne, Maureen Paley, London, and David Zwirner, New York
Wolfgang Tillmans. (Detail) Gedser. 2014.

On the heels of the Tate’s Tillmans retrospective, which closed 11 June, and coinciding with the Grand Palais exhibition Jardins at the Grand Palais (until 24 July) dedication of an entire room to the German artist’s works, Fondation Beyeler is offering the Swiss public a look into the noted photographer’s practice. While the foundation invited Tillmans in 2014 to curate an exhibition featuring his own works alongside pieces from the collection, this marks its first foray into large-scale photography. The move is strategic – a full retrospective has the weight to draw the crowds flocking to Basel for Art Basel and its legion of satellite fairs.

Around 200 still life, portraiture, abstract, light study, Xerox-manipulated, and non-camera created (and more) works outline the first non-British Turner Prize winner’s practice between 1989-2017. The images address themes such as vital political issues through to explorations of the foundations of the medium, but Tillmans remarked at 2011 Munich Art Academy lecture that he prefers to avoid artistic categorisations. “Instead I can actually define a clearer line in terms of ‘made with a lens’ and ‘not made with a lens’,” reported artnet of his statement. “Because abstract in a sense of ‘to abstract,’ meaning that reality is being transformed, applies to any photo. What you see here is not a sky, but a blue colored surface, making it therefore also an abstraction of the sky.”

Senior curator Dr Theodora Vischer, who worked closely with the Tillmans on the non-hierarchical exhibition, expressed that the show highlights how his techniques display a marked difference from traditional photography, referencing the artist’s incorporation of music, video and installation, one of which is on display. The experimental means Tillmans has adopted throughout his career explores the creation of images and the limits of the visible that has in many ways developed a new visual language. “I always saw photography as an object,” he said in a conversation with curator Hans Ulrich Obrist in 2007. “I never thought of a picture as being bodiless, but rather as existing within a process of transformation from three dimensions to two—a conceptual activity.”

Wolfgang Tillmans runs until 1 October at Fondation Beyeler, Basel, Switzerland. For more information visit