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date: 19 August 2019

Tillmans, Wolfgangfree

German, 20th–21st century, male.

Born 1968, in Remscheid, Germany.

Photographer, installation artist. Abstraction, documentary photography.

Wolfgang Tillmans completed his studies in 1992 at the Bournemouth and Poole College of Art and Design. His early works documented a generation of London’s techno club scene. These gained the attention of the culture magazine i-D, and he soon became a regular contributor. He currently lives and works in Berlin and London.

Originally an analogue photographer, Tillmans switched to digital photography in the late 2000s in a bid to exploit a hyper-realistic quality. This transition afforded him the technology to investigate a new genre; Tillmans is widely credited as a pioneer of abstract photography. In his large-scale Freischwimmer series, he was able to elevate photography to the level of the sublime, reminiscent of the Abstract Expressionism movement. Balancing chaos and control, Tillmans uses darkroom materials to intentionally over-process the chemicals and pigments and then guides them compositionally.

Working in the portraiture, landscape, and still life genres, Tillmans has received acclaim for his aesthetically engaging images of the mundane aspects of everyday life. In 2000, Tillmans became the first non-British artist to win the Turner Prize. Many of his installations refute the typical linear, white-cube arrangement in favour of a carefully crafted salon-style display of unframed photographs pinned to the wall. Photographs like Love (Hands in the Air) (1989) gained notoriety for their casual, ‘snapshot’-like quality but were in fact carefully crafted, technically executed, and aesthetically motivated. Emphasising ephemerality, Tillmans aims to capture enigmatic moments that cannot be put into words.

Group Exhibitions

2001, Isa Genzken & Wolfgang Tillmans, Museum Ludwig, Cologne, Germany

2004, Museum for Contemporary Art, Kanazawa, Japan

2011, Photography Calling! Fotografie und Gegenwart, Sprengel Museum, Hanover, Germany

2016, Takashi Murakami’s Superflat Collection: From Shōhaku and Rosanjin to Anselm Kiefer, Yokohama Museum of Art, Japan

Solo Exhibitions

1995, Kunsthalle Zurich, Switzerland

1997, I Didn’t Inhale, Chisenhale Gallery, London, United Kingdom

2001, View from Above/Aufsicht, Deichtorhallen, Hamburg, Germany

2003, If One Thing Matters, Everything Matters, Tate Britain, London, United Kingdom

2006, Freedom from the Known, MoMA PS1, Long Island City, NY

2010, Serpentine Gallery, London, United Kingdom

2012, Museum de Arte del Banco de la Republica, Bogota, Colombia

2015, Book for Architects, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY

2015, PCR, David Zwirner Gallery, New York, NY

Auction Records

London, 12 Feb 2010: (Untitled) Las Vegas (2000, c-print, 67½ × 57 ins/171.5 × 145.1 cm) GBP 46,850 (premium)

New York, 13 May 2010: Supercollider, refraction C (2003, c-print, 68 × 57 ins/172.7 × 144.8 cm) USD 88,900 USD (premium)

London, 4 Nov 2014: Freischwimmer (2004, c-print, 94 ½ × 71 ins/240 × 180 cm) GBP 86,500 (premium)

New York, 29 Sept 2015: URGENCY VIII (2006, c-print, 89 ¾ × 67 ½ ins/228 × 171.1 cm) USD 156,250 (premium)


  • Tillmans, Wolfgang: If One Thing Matters, Everything Matters, Tate, London, 2003.
  • Ault, Julie/Birnbaum, Daniel: Wolfgang Tillmans, Yale University Press, New Haven (CT), 2006.
  • Paul, Benjamin: Wolfgang Tillmans Still Life, Harvard Art Museum, Cambridge (MA), 2006.
  • Eichler, Dominic: Wolfgang Tillmans: Abstract Pictures, Hatje Cantz, Ostfildern, 2015.