Blackpaint 183


Wolfgang Tillmans at the Serpentine

This artist seems to perplex some critics with his breadth of activity.  He seems to cover a lot of different techniques and subjects in his photographic work, to the extent that critics have wondered just what he considers to be art (see Laura Cumming, 27th June, in the Guardian): “Tillmans had no style but every style, no particular subject but everything around him”.  To be fair, Cumming is describing her reaction to him at the time of his Turner Prize award in 2000; now, her conclusion is that his art is about the processes and techniques  of photography.  If I have not misunderstood, that makes this show something like a glorified showreel.

To some degree, I think that’s right, but there are some striking images and several artists, painters and photographers, come to mind.

There are several huge photographs with a pink-cream base, which look like pinpricks of blood-red ink beginning to dissolve in liquid.  They could easily be Twomblys.  There is one even more massive, with indigo “ink”, in swirls that resemble comb strokes.  There are assemblages of glossy sheets, each in a different, bright colour, some folded and re-straightened – little Kleins?

Then, there are fuzzy black and white photos of a man working on  scaffolding; looks like photo-journalism, something out of Exposed at the Tate Modern, as if from a sequence.  Something is going to happen in the next frame.

 A couple of works have the scraped pattern appearance of Richters and  there is an enormous, glamorous portrait of female heptathletes at a  meet that immediately recalls Renike Dijkstra. 

The most memorable image is an unpretentious small photograph of a swimmer digging a splinter from his foot.  It’s a great shape – there’s something about the extended neck of the swimmer and his hunched figure and bent leg that recall a Figure at the base of a Crucifixion – the bleached colour photo of another swimmer apparently balancing on his right arm – or is he executing some sort of dive? – is marginally  less interesting.

There’s much more of note; flowers, parchment, electrical bits and pieces,  a cow tormented by flies, gardens, rockeries, drunks and scrapyards.  There is a desk display of magazine newspaper items relating to religious persecution of gays and women, genital mutilation and hangings in Iran. 

There is an aerial view of a huge industrial(?) complex or transport centre that I first took for a close up of a silicon chip.  On closer inspection, groups of tiny container lorries could be made out on roads and long ingots turned out to be sheds or hangars.  Big, square, empty areas give the impression of  flooded fields.  The inevitable comparison is with Gursky.

Very varied, then; painterly “art” photography, reportage, politics, portraits, huge, small, nature, industry….  No wonder he irritates critics – hard to get a “take” on, like, say, Gerhard Richter.

The Road to Mandalay

Blackpaint

27.08.10

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