Wolfgang Tillmans in Berlin's Museum of Ethnology

The photographer’s contribution to the eighth Berlin Biennale takes in denim, sneakers and TV static
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From left: computer programmed denim distress, 2013 TextileFespa Digital / Fruit Logistica / Airport Security / Silver / TV Static, (TSC), 2014 2 Glas, Holz, Offsetdruck, Laserstrahldruck, Tintenstrahldruck / 2 glass, inkjet print, laser print, offset print, wood; Astro Crusto, A, (2012) Inkjet print on paper; Jacket Air to Ground Recognition - Red, 2014 Textile; LeBron X - Dolphins, 2014; Installation view Courtesy Galerie Buchholz, Berlin/Cologne; Maureen Paley, London; David Zwirner
From left: computer programmed denim distress, 2013 TextileFespa Digital / Fruit Logistica / Airport Security / Silver / TV Static, (TSC), 2014 2 Glas, Holz, Offsetdruck, Laserstrahldruck, Tintenstrahldruck / 2 glass, inkjet print, laser print, offset print, wood; Astro Crusto, A, (2012) Inkjet print on paper; Jacket Air to Ground Recognition - Red, 2014 Textile; LeBron X - Dolphins, 2014; Installation view Courtesy Galerie Buchholz, Berlin/Cologne; Maureen Paley, London; David Zwirner

The Berlin Biennale starts today, with a tightly focussed programme, featuring fifty artists, spread across the western and central parts of the city. These include conventional spaces for contemporary art, like Haus am Waldsee and the Kunst-Werke Institute for Contemporary Art, as well as less usual settings. Berlin’s Ethnological Museum of Berlin is more used to displaying Benin bronzes than challenging contemporary photography; the institution, in the city’s Dahlem district, has thousands of pre-industrial objects in its collection, to teach German citizens about vernacular life far from their homeland.

 

Astro Crusto, A (2012) by Wolfgang Tillmans
Astro Crusto, A (2012) by Wolfgang Tillmans

However, for the Biennale, which runs until 8 August, the fine-art photographer and Phaidon author, Wolfgang Tillmans, has installed his own display. The show includes some of his better-known shots, such as Astro Crusto A (2012), but also some unconventional inclusions, such as a Nike LeBron X – Dolphins basketball shoe, a US army surplus jacket, and a display of computer programmed denim distressing techniques, and a billowing shot of TV static.

 

Wolfgang Tillmans Sendeschluss / End of Broadcast I, (2014) Courtesy Galerie Buchholz, Berlin/Cologne; Maureen Paley, London; David Zwirner, New York Photo: Anders Sune Berg
Wolfgang Tillmans Sendeschluss / End of Broadcast I, (2014) Courtesy Galerie Buchholz, Berlin/Cologne; Maureen Paley, London; David Zwirner, New York Photo: Anders Sune Berg

It’s all in keeping with the Biennale’s theme this year, which “explores the intersection between larger historical narratives and individuals’ lives.” Yet it also seems to key into Tillmans’s own preoccupations of youth, style and the forces of history.

The snow-like, black and white static that appeared on TV screens after closedown or ‘Sendeschluss’, as this picture is called, will bring to mind late-night idleness to anyone old enough to remember pre-digital TV, while the computerised denim wear tells us something about labour, digitization and authenticity among today’s young.

There’s no clear, didactic message, but it certainly looks like a compelling show, in a setting more used to describing prehistoric eras. Find out more about the show here, and for a richer understanding of Tillmans and his work, please take a look at our newly updated monograph. 


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