Fragile, communal, homosexual. On 5 May, Maureen Paley opened its ninth exhibition by Wolfgang Tillmans. The show, comprising two rooms of photographic works – both archival and new – was installed in a quintessentially Tillmans manner. What do I mean by this? Non-hierarchical.
Amongst his abstract Greifbar works, created solely in the darkroom, an unseen series of snapshots taken at different points on the Old Street roundabout punctuate the room. Each image is taped to the wall meticulously; the tape dispenser he uses does not serrate the edges, and the tape does not touch the emulsion. He does not pin the images as this pierces the corners. Peppered throughout the room upstairs are photocopied images: black and white, enlarged inkjet prints, and an aqua green copy of a contracted bicep. No image was prioritised over another despite the fact some were framed and some not. The snapshots have a lightness and fragility that accustom one to the images’ imperfections. This perfect imperfection is central to his work; his unspoken philosophy accepts decay – that a photo will fade or the exquisite fruit will rot – but that this okay.
In showing as he does, Tillmans questions the art world’s concept of what it is 'to show'. In parallel to the likes of Hirst, Warhol and Koons, who largely interrogate the concept of the art object, Tillmans tackles the exclusivity of the arts institution from his own holistic angle. His work has featured in i-D, he shows magazine clippings alongside framed works, and he has orchestrated sincere political campaigns – his latest using archive Nick Knight imagery overlaid with text Tillmans translated, pushing pro-EU individuals to vote. His work has also shown in Panorama Bar (the upstairs section of Berghain) and he photographed Frank Ocean’s Blonde album cover. A polite subversion much felt at the opening. To discuss who attended may be dismissed as superficial, but in actuality the attendants affirmed the ethos of Tillmans. London’s queen of nightlife Princess Julia, esteemed editor Charlie Porter, designer Nasir Mazhar, and Fashion East Founder Lulu Kennedy all passed by.
On the top floor, an image displays four men – one of whom is dressed in camo trousers, braces and 20 eyelet Dr. Martens – posed before a semi-nude male statue. Covering the sculpture’s phallus is a leaf; it is unclear whether the image is staged or not as not all of Tillmans’ work is totally candid. Whilst Tillmans has documented queer or alternative scenes he was part of or witnessed, he doesn't sensationalise the subject or exclude the viewer. Rather he invites the viewer into the moment through the hyper-casual representation of something extraordinary. One man, topless, dressed in short shorts and work boots, stands with his calf muscle taut, leant against the statue’s muscular thigh. One man cradles a bottle of champagne (or sparkling wine) between his legs, whilst another looks off into the distance. A tender depiction of this hidden world, presented for universal appeal.