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Wolfgang Tillmans, Chaos Cup, 1997.

Wolfgang Tillmans

Museum of Contemporary Art, through Aug 13.


4/5 stars

Wolfgang Tillmans is only now beginning to receive a warm reception in this country. It is tempting to blame the meager number of U.S. exhibitions for this situation, but it’s more fun to blame that creepy double-jointed girl whose ubiquitous portrait seemed to be one of only a handful of Tillmans’s photos anyone displayed. Certainly this retrospective aims to set the record straight with more than 300 works. For the most part it does—forgiving the video Lights (Body), which has its moments, but not so much. If you are sympathetic to Tillmans’s work, you might describe this exhibition (hung by the artist) as groin-grabbingly delicious, and if you have seen this show, you know exactly what that means.

Anything you could expect of contemporary photography—and of Tillmans—is here: large-scale works and small snapshots, candid moments galore, youth fetishization, everyday scenes, photographs both framed with care and casually taped to the wall, celebrity portraits, and the fleeting presence of fashion. This still allows space for the unexpected: stunningly formal abstractions, tender studies of discarded clothing, cropped images of topical entries from newspapers and magazines, giant photographic reproductions of photocopies and faxes. Somehow, the abstractions and photocopies in particular cast a looming hue over the rest of the images, a tone that pulls the viewer in, letting the smaller images shine. Though by the end, one has the nagging desire to ask: Will we still care for his obsession with the libertine ways of carefree teens when he’s 64?

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