Wolfgang Tillmans’s “from Neue Welt”

Kevin McGarry

June 19, 2013
Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York
May 4–June 15, 2013

A frustrated Berliner recently posited Wolfgang Tillmans to me as the only example of a truly successful youngish artist living and working in the city. This is, of course, ludicrously far from accurate, but as hyperbole it illustrates something telling about the aura of the young-at-heart photographer who has been showing for more than twenty years now. For all his whimsical individualism, his gaze has long since evolved into an authoritative brand. His images are reliably one of the easiest places to experience that alchemical combination of subjectivity, nuance, and virtuosity to make you sigh happily and see their haphazard forms as more or less perfect.

Tillmans’s recent show at Andrea Rosen Gallery in Chelsea is called “from Neue Welt,” a selection of twenty-five photographs sifted from a much larger series amassed over the past four years, Neue Welt. More extensive samplings from Neue Welt have made the rounds in a string of museums internationally, and last year the collection was published as a book by the same name. Prepositionally nested as such, the title of the Rosen show becomes a double entendre, both for a gallery-scaled edit of the pre-existing exhibitions and for the more abstract notion of excerpts from a “new world” born in relation to Tillmans’s life and practice.

The images on view come from a heterogeneous portfolio of destinations: Mt. Kilimanjaro, São Paulo, Addis Abeba, Jeddah, Shanghai. The eclectic geographies instantly bring to mind poetic evidence of globalization, but rather than an atomized portrait of the modern world—be it a European auto showroom or a high-tech Egyptian fruit boutique—the photographs do a better job of depicting the photographer as a persistent observer, one who (despite an embarrassment of riches in the travel budget department) manages to find himself again and again in a position of productive naivety, where an authentic experience of seeing is possible.

No picture in the show is approached from a more inquisitively alienated perspective than a still life of a workstation in a German observatory in Chile, in which a display monitor shrouded in cables and droning office lighting shows the image of a star in two different degrees of detail. The larger rendering is made up of crude pixels whose clean geometries clash with the nearby tangle of wires. By contrast the astral body, clinically approximated, appears awe-inspiring. Overall the scene looks almost ironic, a gag about the cosmos stuffed into a depressing cubicle. But on the contrary it feels like an interior discovery—a bit Disney, which means both saccharine and powerfully universal—a micro new world, opened up.

A work that takes a more extensively iterative approach to capturing small universes is a series of 128 pages torn out of a paperback indexing exhibits from trade fairs dedicated to digital printing and to fruit. From a numerological standpoint, 128, or two to the seventh power, is a computer coding denominator and an integer that factors into certain compressions of digital images, not that this is by any means an explicit part in the work. In the tension between the personal and the encyclopedic there is a handy completeness brought upon by the fallacy that anyone would have a omniscient view of anything.

Tillmans has ruminated on where and what his new world is, notably in conversation with curator Beatrix Ruf in the aforementioned book. His observations about images and the world, as a career image-maker, are forthcoming. Most are paradoxes, like our perpetual pursuit and enhanced methods for attaining absolute knowledge, which have only increasingly fragmented our worldviews and induced literal fragmentation embodied in our technologies (a good point of reference post-Venice). How can a new picture of the world be formed twenty years in to an artist’s imaging of it? Here Tillmans shares a view that begins in media res, a new story inextricable from the world as we know it, and a catalog of sights captured by a keen eye.

Photography, Image, Globalization

Kevin McGarry lives in Los Angeles and São Paulo. He has worked as an art critic, culture reporter, communications consultant, film programmer and interior designer.

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Andrea Rosen Gallery
June 19, 2013

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