Wolfgang Tillmans

born 1968 in Remscheid, Germany; lives in Berlin and London


1990–1992: Degree from Bournemouth and Poole College of Art and Design

1995: Art prize ars viva

2000: Winner of Turner Prize (as first photographer)

2003–2009: Professor at the Städelschule, Frankfurt am Main

2009: Award from the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Photographie

2014: Wollaston Award, Royal Academy of Arts, London

2015: Hasselblad Foundation International Award in Photography, Gothenburg, Sweden

2017: B.Z.-Art prize, Berlin

2018: Kaiserring, Goslar Award for Modern Art

Visual Arts

Visual Arts

While living in Hamburg, Wolfgang Tillmans began, in the late 1980s, to produce portraits of his friends and acquaintances in the local music and youth scene. His empathic and carefully composed snapshots, which gradually moved beyond the German and British rave- and gay-culture milieu in which his work started, soon began appearing in music and lifestyle magazines like i-D and Spex (Tillmans functioned temporarily as a coeditor of the latter). His sensitive, subtle portrait series, such as the one on his two friends Lutz & Alex, which didn’t focus on sensationalistic moments of excess in the rave and club scene, won him a reputation as a »chronicler of his generation.«


Likewise, Tillmans’s photographic approach is far from escapist or lost in stylistic reverie and is instead characterized by the aspiration to capture reality and moments of experiential truth. Consequently, his repertoire has grown continuously. In the late 1990s, it expanded to include—along with landscape photography, still-life, or celestial bodies—abstractions produced in the darkroom without the use of a camera, as well as sculptural works with rolls of paper, such as folded photo paper. The incorporation of analogue photocopying techniques (as a throwback to earlier experiments from the 1980s) is also typical of his tireless activity exhibiting over the last two decades. These exhibitions were characterized by his diligently arranged wall tableaux as well as works on tables in which he combined diverse photos and formats (Truth Study Center, which was published as a book in 2005 and since then has frequently appeared as part of exhibitions). Since 2009, Tillmans has made use of digital technologies, which in his view is closely connected with a new image regime that eludes all forms of fixation.

Author: Christian Höller



Back in 1986, at the age of eighteen, Tillmans pursued a music project with multi-instrumentalist Bert Leßmann (who died in 2013). They met in Remscheid and Wuppertal to make recordings. Thirty years later, Tillmans went public with these recordings—bleak indie rock on synthesizer—in the course of a revival of his musical works. Together with two new songs—with Tillmans performing throughout as singer— they mark the beginning of a series of releases and performances by the artist that followed on a regular basis. In 2016, this led to the creation of the band (and label of the same name) Fragile. The EP That’s Desire / Here We Are was recorded with a full lineup, and a »visual album« was produced for it consisting of six individual videos. Among the dance-oriented tracks is once again a song from the year 1986, Fast Lane, connecting back to Tillmans’s musical beginnings. In 2017, Tillmans recorded a strong, vocally based album with the title Hamburg Süd / Nee I Yaow eow eow, which was at the same time a »soundtrack« for his exhibition in Kunstverein Hamburg. The EP Heute will ich frei sein (I Want to Be Free Today) followed in 2018, for which a »visual album« consisting of five individual videos was once again produced.

In the Exhibition

In the Exhibition

Wolfgang Tillmans

South Tanks, Tate Modern, London, March 3, 2017, with Wolfgang Tillmans (voc.) and Kyle Combs, Juan Pablo Echeverri, Tim Knapp, Jay Pluck, and Tom Roach, 4:45 min.

Tate © Tate Digital 2018

On March 3, 2017, Tillmans performs with his band Fragile in celebration of his retrospective at the London Tate Modern. As prelude to a week of concerts organized by the artist, Fragile gives, as part of their contribution, two samples of their versatile repertoire.

To begin with, a cover of the leftist Sacropop classic Anderes Osterlied (A Different Eater Song), recorded in 1970 by the Peter Janssens Ensemble. To a lean, catchy guitar riff, Tillmans pronounces semi-inflammatory, inflected verse, in which liberation theology and calls for revolution are closely related: »That would sit well with masters of the world / if justice were to come only in the afterlife …« This contrasts with the drone-like song Naïve Me. Written in 2016, it focuses on Brexit, which almost nobody thought was possible. Tillmans’s inflected speech turns in on itself and begins, if only briefly, to turn in a circle: »naïve me – me naïve.« Meanwhile, the five-person band spouts ominous plumes of sound, till the struggle against helplessness flows into the conclusive ending: »How did we get into this shit?«


Christian Höller