German, born 1968
Headlight (a), 2012
Chromogenic color print, artist’s proof
78 3/4 x 53 1/8 inches (200 x 134.9 cm)
Bequest of John Mortimer Schiff, by exchange, 2012
Since documenting his forays amid the precarious youth culture of Berlin and London in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Wolfgang Tillmans has come to redefine the medium of photography while shepherding a new generation of DIY fringe photographers. His commitment to capturing subjects pertinent to both his sense of self and the overall cultural climate has yielded a body of work with varying aesthetics. However, despite such flux, Tillmans’s overall oeuvre remains dedicated to countering prescribed meanings through visual scrutiny in order to unearth the truth. Moreover, with an innate sense of chance and timing akin to the “decisive moments” of Henri Cartier-Bresson (French, 1908–2004), Tillmans creates exacting, yet strikingly simple compositions that incite viewers to forgo their preconceptions of commercial art and rediscover the joy of simply looking.
Over the years, Tillmans has continued to build upon this unique style of wide-eyed nonchalance while also venturing into more abstract terrain in the fields of digital video and installation art. His earlier interest in appropriative techniques has similarly matured into a predilection for enlarging his often banal surroundings into intriguing, surreal compositions. For example, Headlight (a), 2012, zooms in on the headlight of a car that Tillmans encountered at a public lot in Tasmania. Cropped tightly so that only a section of the glossy hood and fender can be seen, the image focuses on the ornate assortment of lenses that wildly refract a menacing red glare from an unknown source outside the frame. As in his more straightforward documentary images, it is this overriding atmosphere—not the explicit subject—that ultimately draws our attention. At once repulsive and attractive, the intensity of the light subtly echoes the tug and pull of contemporary consumerism.
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