New York

Wolfgang Tillmans

Andrea Rosen Gallery

Individual photographs: a sweeping view of a Venetian lagoon; members of the World Adult Kickball Association gathered on the mall in Washington, DC; a sheet of paper, curled into a teardrop shape and glinting against a reflective surface; a profile of a man’s face encrusted with an assortment of mottled stones. All were encountered in the main room of Andrea Rosen Gallery as part of Wolfgang Tillmans’s eighth solo outing there, “Atair,” where the photographer’s characteristic range of genre and format spurred an initial feeling described once by Thomas Pynchon as “antiparanoia,” “where nothing is connected to anything.” But if the sense at the other end of Pynchon’s continuum—“everything is connected”—never obtains for a Tillmans exhibition, subtle rapports between works nevertheless eventually emerge. A photograph of a newspaper article about the deleterious effects of gold mining presaged Gong, 2007, a burnished disk hanging in the next room, while an image of a thigh and knee in part of a medieval tapestry reverberated in the muscular legs of the young man pictured in Gedser, 2004, a few paces away.

Well timed for New York audiences unable to make it to Tillmans’s still touring retrospective in Washington, D.C., Chicago, L.A., or Mexico City, “Atair” was a sprawling show featuring nearly fifty works from the past three years in one of the artist’s typically anarchic installations, in which a catholicity of subject matter is underscored by the irregularity of the hang. He frames some works and affixes others to the wall with Scotch tape, presses hallways and niches into service as exhibition space, and positions pictures at varying heights, clustered closely together or spaced several feet apart. Here, his colorful darkroom abstractions (made by exposing photographic paper to sundry chemicals and light sources) were interleaved with shots of interiors of cathedrals and mosques, and a few exquisite images of bowed or looping paper commingled with black-and-white still life's of single blooms. Four tabletop assemblages, titled Paradise, War, Religion, and Work (TSC New York), 2007, comprised photos, newspaper articles, photocopies, and ephemera under glass. (The Work section included, among other objects, a copy of an International Herald Tribune dispatch on voter fraud and a snapshot of an IKEA billboard.) These setups, microcosms of Tillmans’s discursivity, distill an operative mechanism of his practice whereby meaning, even truth, is negotiated via juxtaposition and collision.

This was a strong show, but not a surprising one, and one wonders if Tillmans’s eclectic subjects and unconventional installations have begun to hazard a certain stylization now that he has reached mid-career. Some themes seem to be running their course; the beer-drinkers in HMD (01-15), 2007, are older and paunchier than the club-goers of fifteen years ago, and don’t look like they’re having nearly as much fun. Still, a few heartening new directions surfaced. The effects of enlarging black-and-white photocopies in a triplet of massive framed photograph—Venice, Garden, and Victoria Park (all 2007)—are mesmerizing enough to short-circuit any (surely less interesting) chestnuts about reproduction or flatness their making might inspire. In addition, Gong and the folding and crumpling of photo paper in Lighter 30, 2007, and Lighter 31, 2007, signal a long-in-the-making move into the third dimension.

The video Farbwerk (Color Work), 2006, provided a braking coda to the acceleration of images as one neared the small back room where it was shown. A little less than a minute long, it’s a slow, hypnotic zoom in on the spinning red ink rollers of a printing press. The subject is obliquely self-reflexive, evoking Tillmans’s publishing endeavors and work in color printing. Yet the video might also be thought a graceful figure for his practice, in which the mundane thing, caught unawares, rouses equally unexpected reserves of scrutiny and attention.

Lisa Turvey