In Depth

Wolfgang Tillmans at the Tate Modern

The first exhibition devoted to the German Turner Prize winner opens this February at London's home for contemporary art

Back in 2000, few would have thought a photographer who launched his career documenting street culture for fashion magazines would nab contemporary art's most high-profile accolade.

That moment made Wolfgang Tillmans not only the first photographer to win the Turner Prize, but also the first non-British artist. In his acceptance speech, he described his winning entry, a collection of 57 images of everyday events, as an attempt to "shift the perspective about what is beautiful and what is acceptable in society".

Since then, his work has grown to embrace increasingly varied subjects, styles and mediums. A major new exhibition opening at Tate Modern will trace his personal evolution, exploring how the social and political themes that run through his work have shaped his output over the past two decades.

A key focus will be placed on his more recent forays into abstraction, demonstrated through important pieces such as 2014's Sendeschluss/End of Broadcast I, in which Tillmans plays with the opposing concepts of digital and analogue through images of a television losing signal. Another, the series Blushes 2000, pushes the boundaries of the art form by manipulating the effect of light on photographic paper.

Tillmans' more literal portraiture, landscape and still-life imagery will also be examined, tracing the development in his style as he switched primarily to digital photography from 2009 onwards. 

They vary from the abstract, such as The State We're In, a large-scale seascape, to Collum, a close-up of a body that expresses the fragility of the human form.

Beyond the camera, the exhibition showcases his multidisciplinary pieces spanning sound, film and more. First shown at his non-profit Berlin exhibition space Between Bridges, the Playback Room project invites visitors to immerse themselves in a sonic experiment that plays music at the best possible quality. Elsewhere, video installation Instrument shows Tillman dancing, accompanied by the repetitive tapping of his feet on a mesmerising feedback loop. 

Other works encapsulate his personal response to global events, seen through table-top installations such as Truth Study Center (2005-ongoing), a stark assembly of newspaper cuttings and articles among his own work, probing into how the issues of the day are communicated in mass media.

Wolfgang Tillmans is at the Tate Modern from 15 February until 11 June 2017, £12.50; tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern

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