New World, Old Money: Wolfgang Tillman’s “Neue Welt” in Stockholm

Evan Moffitt


Wolfgang Tillmans’ “Neue Welt”, exhibited at Stockholm’s Moderna Museet, is a voyage to a new world for the young photographer, whose career as a counter cultural artist has brought him commercial success since his days at i-d magazine in the late 1990s. Tillmans, a German native whose early photographs invoke the raw sincerity and raunch of a Generation-X Terry Richardson, has turned to space and technology for his empyrean collection of prints, “New World”. The photographs invoke a detached stillness, many of them abstract close-ups taken with a digital camera (enhancing the contemporary essence behind Tillmans “new” world). The photographs are often impersonally void of humans, focusing on commercial markets, exposition booths and trade fairs, airports, or new cars–fabricated environments presented as the true frontier in a globalized market.

Nevertheless, Tillmans’ new work lacks the straightforward honesty of his old photographs: sullied close-ups of sweaty bodies twisting beneath disco lights that elicit the musty scent and stereo beat of a too-familiar party, or his now-infamous photograph of a skinhead pissing on an office chair, fingers grasped tightly around a cigarette badly in need of an ashtray. In Baudelairean fashion, Tillmans’ self-portraits and daily photographs reflect the alternative lifestyles he sought to record, displaying in earnest something of the “lost generation” that reeled past Y2K and still searches for a voice amidst the struggling economies of late capitalism. Tillmans has left those kindred spirits behind, commercially and artistically, for the shiny gloss of success. The images scintillate before the eye, superbly executed, yet somewhat disingenuous. Should Tillmans reconcile these two photographic visions, his “Neue Welt” with his older one, he may just find what he’s been looking for. Or, like a wayward Columbus, Tillmans may just stumble upon artistic territory he never expected to find.