The Art Angle Podcast: How the Universe Taught Wolfgang Tillmans to Make Art

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When visitors see the new Wolfgang Tillmans retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, the first thing they will probably notice is that only a few paintings are presented in a frame. Most are instead stapled or glued directly to the wall; Adorning almost every service in the six-story museum, they are arranged in groups rather than in rows, much like constellations in the night sky. And that’s an analogy the 54-year-old artist might appreciate himself, given his abiding love of space. “Astronomy,” he once said, “was my visual introduction to seeing.”

A cosmological awe permeates “To Look Without fear,” as MoMA’s exhibition is called—though Tillmans’ themes are often quite mundane. More than 300 photographs of the artist are included, spanning his career spanning nearly four decades, from his experimentation with a photocopier as a student in Germany in the late 1980s and his editorial efforts for index and I WOULD magazines in London and New York in the 90s to his darkroom abstractions of the early 2000s and beyond.

But Tillmans’ practice has always resisted strict taxonomization, and that’s true here, too; what can be seen is not a series of individual works, but a kind of diary journey through the life of the artist: his friends, his lovers; his work, his play; his experience of losing and living with HIV and his constant reflection on what it means to interpret it all through the technology of photography. No lens-based artist revels in the simple depths of the medium quite like him.

From now until January 1st next year, To look without fear an expansive, year-long presentation that rightfully places Tillmans as one of today’s most important working artists. Prior to the show’s opening, Artnet News’ Taylor Dafoe met with Tillmans at MoMA for a conversation about language, a look into the past, and how staring out into the cosmos has taught him to appreciate life on earth.

Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear is on view at the Museum of Modern Art until January 1, 2023.

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