This year the world only has eyes for Wolfgang Tillmans, the 48-year-old German photographer who won the Turner Prize in 2000. In February, he had his first large exhibition at Tate Modern, where he presented political works executed since 2003 that have as a common theme the great changes at work in the world. The Fondation Beyeler has now given him carte blanche for a large retrospective that will last until 1 October 2017. It will present more than 200 of his works that will illustrate how he has reinvented photography.
In parallel with the recognition conferred upon him by the institutional world, the prices of his works have risen sharply. The sales in New York in May saw his own record beaten, with Freischswimmer 123 sold at Sotheby’s for $660,500. A few weeks later at Art Basel, 20 or so of his works were sold for prices of between 10,000 and 150,000 dollars.
The auctions in London confirmed collectors’ enthusiasm for Tillmans when Freischwimmer #84, an abstract work, was fought over at Phillips on 29 June by several collectors and eventually sold for £605,000. Henry Highley, the auctioneer, even advised the people present in the hall “to cancel their dinner plans”, emphasising the ardour for this artist’s work.
From his early and daring erotic photographs to his more abstract experimental works, not to mention his still lifes, his work has strong appeal. He began in the 1980s, in particular publishing photographs in the magazine I-D, before branching out and experimenting in all aspects of photography. “The interesting thing about art”, he explained to Libération on the occasion of his exhibition at Tate, “is that with maturity you don’t do the same thing you did when you were 25. I’m happy to work in the visual arts because it’s a space where one is able to grow”. At 48, Tillmans sees “each image as an experience”, whether it shows the entrails of a shellfish, a raised and clenched fist at a demonstration, or the inside of a cloud. The possibilities are infinite.