New York

Wolfgang Tillmans

Andrea Rosen Gallery

“Will you miss me when I burn?” The Palace Brothers sing this question—pure acetylene. Will Oldham’s voice is torch possessed, soldering the hellishness of the lonesome to that of the famous, a steadfast seam. In the end, denial may be the surest way to fuse something to something else.

Most discussions of Wolfgang Tillmans’ work have been quick to distance it from the context of fashion photography, as if it were something that could maim him—or his career. Beholden as Tillmans is to fashion photography (whatever that might be), often first publishing his work in fashion mags (he has supported himself, in part, by doing such editorial work), to sever his liaison with fashion would be to deny his affinity to techno, to club culture, to the bump and grind of now, which leaves you wet. What if his work were only really great fashion shots? Would it make it any less interesting, any less worthy? How might it change fashion’s notions of fashion? The very reproducibility of any photo might suggest that there would be something quite radical in doing only fashion work for mass publication, a tenuous democratic gesture, or so it could be argued if you really cared a damn anyway. Since much of his work first appeared in fashion mags, let’s hope it continues to, raising the ante for everyone else involved. Who wouldn’t hope that Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar would jettison mediocrity for page after page of Cindy Sherman’s Comme des Garçons shots; Nick Waplington’s Isaac Mizrahi shots; Jack Pierson spending a day with Kristin McMenamy or Paul Mason, as he has done already with Naomi Campbell; more Darryl Turner jaunty, rabid gorgeousness; and more fashion shots by Wolfgang Tillmans. Fashion is most interesting when it contemplates the elegance of intelligence; it is encouraged to do this all too rarely, but when it does it looks mighty real.

Beauty is its own theory. Definitives about where it appears (or should appear—an impossible prophecy) will always be vexed: beauty glows often where you least expect it, however briefly. Perhaps most beautifully when most briefly. Will you miss me when I burn? Denial may be the surest way to fuse something to something else. Using elements of the slapdash to hang his show (Scotch tape, binder clips, pushpins), Tillmans commented on the fragility inherent in any photograph—the flash of something fading and then fading away. This was most richly apparent not in the smaller, rather standard C-prints, slick as K-Y, or color Xeroxes, but in his sumptuous bubble jet prints. The bubble jet insists on the banal rapidity of another and another something to see, since it is often used as a trial run for a more permanent image. Casual and precise, in morning colors inflected by a night of too much fun—slightly aphasic, forgetting their names and intensities—these bubble jets almost enact the word “bubble jet” (a thought, quickly burst), and by displaying them Tillmans saves what many might dismiss all too quickly. What is beautiful are his “models”—those he loves and loves to watch juxtaposed with what keeps going on with or without them. All of it may not be around for long: Moby (lying), 1993, comfortable as a cat on a pink daisy sheet; Alex in her room, 1993, in a skirt that looks like a pair of baggy pants; Arndt, Alex, Corinne, Adam; tit-spritz, cockshaft, belief.

Bruce Hainley