Critics’ Picks

View of “Folding, Refraction, Touch: Modern and Contemporary Art in Dialogue with Wolfgang Tillmans,” 2016.

View of “Folding, Refraction, Touch: Modern and Contemporary Art in Dialogue with Wolfgang Tillmans,” 2016.

Boston

“Folding, Refraction, Touch”

Harvard Art Museums
32 Quincy Street
August 27, 2016–January 8, 2017

Spread into clusters over a whole wall, Wolfgang Tillmans’s nineteen-part installation Folding, Refraction, Touch, 2013, marries his early sensual nightlife portraiture with his later conceptual, self-reflexive photography. In his images of bent limbs, used sheets, and discarded clothing, folds appear on human bodies and the objects used by people. Joints and wrinkles fleetingly bear witness to a presence that, for this artist, can only be preserved through photography. The largest piece in the show, Silver 101, 2012, is simply a beige striated sheet of chromogenic paper that was made by developing a blank sheet in a dirty print processor. Through its emphasis on materiality and malfunction, this image brings to mind the common chemical backbone shared by all the photographs on the wall. Scale is used ironically as well—Silver 101 has the subtlest content, while some of the smaller snapshot prints contain far more information than is visible to the eye.

Facing this installation are photographic and sculptural works by other German as well as Czech artists, selected by curators Lynette Roth and Olivia Crough. These range from photograms by Oskar Nerlinger and Jaroslav Rössler to a sculpture of bent brass rods by Brigitte Matschinsky-Denninghoff and Martin Matschinsky-Denninghoff. They are rather oblique in their relationship to the main installation, refusing a contrived narrative of development that places Tillmans’s work as some sort of culmination in photographic experimentation. Admittedly, though, it is difficult to form a dialogue with an installation that only wants to talk about its own construction.

Without a doubt, Georg Herold’s 1989 untitled piece develops the most wholehearted repartee with Tillmans’s work. Showing Herold’s intervention with a copper electroplating process on a photograph of wooden planks, the result is a large-format ashen frame that surrounds a flattened wooden pattern. Like Silver 101, the work is large but only whispers.