I went to DC the first week of August to see the Wolgang Tillmans show at the Hirshhorn Museum. I have always had a mixed response to the work of this artist. Some work is, to me, so conceptual that there is no pathway into the work on other levels. So, I was surprised how much of the work I found engaging and communicative. I was especially excited to see the abstract work. I knew the large scale photograms that were on view at PS1 last year. But I was less familiar with the series called "Paper Drop". I had seen some of them at Andrea Rosen's booth at AIPAD last year. I was intrigued by them then, but I was wowed even more to see a large room filled with their graceful shapes and evocative rhythms. They are not without the conceptual rigor that Tillmans is known for -- turning photography back on itself by photographing the very materials that are used to show the work. It seems a kind of conceptual mirror. But they work even without this intellectual layer. They are simply beautiful. If they were paintings, they would be admired for their form, balance, texture, and composition. That they have extra levels to plumb on further study and reflection only adds to the seductiveness of their surface beauty.
@Wolgang Tillmans "paper drop" (shadow)
@Wolfgang Tillmans "paper drop" (star), 2006. Courtesy Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York, and Regen Projects, Los Angeles.
@Wolfgang Tillmans "paper drop" (kestner), 2006
However, the star of the show for me wasn't photography. There was one 6 minute video titled "Lights (Body)" that was visually hypnotic and conceptually irresistible. The catalog describes a video that "presents various views of the flashing and oscillating lights of a busy discotheque set to the pulsating sound of electronic dance music". Some views are extreme close-up and some are from a distance, but they are all abstracted out and without a human presence. The effect is of some kind of robotized dance hall one moment followed by a moving, living abstract expressionist canvas. Again, as in "paper drop", Tillmans combines a sumptuous, visually compelling surface with a thought provoking core. The catalog made no mention of this, but I wondered whether his disco without people was a reference to an AIDS decimated social scene where the music and lights blare on in pre-programmed ecstasy while the humans who are meant to enjoy them are nowhere to be found. I was transfixed.