Wolfgang Tillmans at the Fondation Beyeler

28 May –  1 October 2017

Fondation Beyeler, Riehen/Basel, Switzerland


This year’s big summer exhibition at the Fondation Beyeler is dedicated to the German artist Wolfgang Tillmans (*1968). Around 200 photographic works dating from 1986 to 2017 will be on show from May 28 to October 1, together with a new audiovisual installation. 

Following an invitation from the Fondation Beyeler in 2014, on which occasion the artist installed two of his own works in a room with paintings and sculptures from the Beyeler Collection, this summer’s exhibition with Wolfgang Tillmans marks the first comprehensive engagement with the medium of photography at the Fondation Beyeler. It will show how Tillmans’ work is concerned with the creation of a new visual language rather than with photography in the conventional sense. 

Tillmans’ oeuvre is frequently perceived in connection with his personality. The artist’s involvement and position in different social contexts yield a narrative that is taken—often all too unquestioningly— as a key to the understanding of his works. As a consequence, what the pictures by Tillmans really are, and what makes them unique—something that is less directly tangible, and which remains hard to put into words—is relegated to the background. 

The exhibition at the Fondation Beyeler attempts a different approach to the work of Wolfgang Tillmans. The exhibition is conceived not in terms of a specific theme or a narrative context, but starts from and revolves around the images themselves. The Fondation Beyeler, with its collection of outstanding works of classic modernism and contemporary art, represents an ideal context in which to show how Tillmans has transformed the mechanical medium of photography into a powerfully expressive, independent visual language. A visual language in which the subject becomes seeing as such, and thus also the perception of the world. 

Tillmans first made a name for himself in the early 1990s with today in part iconic photographs that captured the mood of a generation and the youth culture of which he was part. He soon widened his focus, experimenting with the means of photography in a creative, bold and at the same time confident manner in order to invent new pictorial types—abstract images that are made without a camera lens and which include the works under the titles Xerox, Silver, Lighter and Freischwimmer/Greifbar. Tillmans thereby expands and revitalizes not only the traditional genres of portraiture, still life and landscape, but also exploits the entire spectrum between objectivity and abstraction. 

At the same time, Tillmans has developed a specific form of installation. His photographs seldom hang side by side at the same height, but are dispersed in a loose arrangement across the wall: large and small, figural and abstract, framed and unframed. It is a kind of presentation in which the visual relationships between the pictures are just as important as the individual picture. It means, too, that the individual image is always seen as part of a coherent narrative.

The pictures selected for the exhibition at the Fondation Beyeler, and their installation in the twelve galleries of the museum, will show how Tillmans uses the possibilities of photography to evoke visibility, and to develop a pictorial strategy that invests the perception of the world with a new, human quality.


Wolfgang Tillmans was born in 1968 in Remscheid, Germany. His work as an artist began when he was aged 20 and living in Hamburg. At the start of the 1990s he studied at the Bournemouth and Poole College of Art and Design, England. From 1992 to 2007 he lived mainly in London, before relocating to Berlin. Tillmans’ work has earned recognition and been exhibited around the world since the early 1990s. 

Major exhibitions of his work have been held at Kunsthalle Zürich (1995 and 2012), the Deichtorhallen, Hamburg (2001), Tate Britain, London (2003), Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery and Wako Works of Art, Tokyo (both 2004), the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (2006), the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles (2006), the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington (2007), the Museo Tamayo Arte Contemporanea, Mexico City (2008), Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin (2008), the National Museum of Art, Osaka (2015) and Tate Modern, London (2017), among many others. In 2000 Tillmans became the first photographer and the first non-British artist to win the Turner Prize. In 2015 he received the International Award in Photography from the Hasselblad Foundation, Gothenburg. 


An Artist Talk with Wolfgang Tillmans will take place on September 7, as part of the series organized by the Fondation Beyeler and UBS.


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