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Wolfgang Tielmans at Foundation Beyeler

a major artist for the 21st century

The brilliance of certain artists lies in their ability to force you to really look at what they have to show. It’s true of German-born, London-based artist Wolfgang Tillmans (b. 1968). Slowly but surely he’s become one of the superstars of contemporary art, and deservedly so. He currently has an exhibition at Tate Modern in London, he’s inaugurated last Saturday another exhibition at the Fondation Beyeler in Basel where the quality is as high as the quantity (200 works), as well as appearing at the Venice Biennale in the international pavilion and having a room of his own in Paris at the Grand Palais for Laurent Le Bon’s big Garden ( Jardins, le jardin oeuvre d’art totale) exhibition. According to Tillmans, the Tate Modern exhibition addresses the state of the modern world since the Iraq War, 14 years ago. The one in Basel comprises mainly of a private survey that begins with a self-portrait drawn in 1986 and goes right up to his most recent photos. ‘Wolfgang’s production perfectly incarnates the images of our time. Critics are unanimous about his importance to the 21st century,’ states Samuel Keller, head of the Fondation Beyeler, which is designating its entire space to a photographer for the first time in its history. Tillmans first made his mark by populating his not especially meticulous photographs of rebellious youth—his own. But he rapidly proved himself by enlarging his style and his repertoire. The result, 30 years of exploration, is visible from London to Basel. You might be inclined to qualify his work as contemplative, as it contains a lot of emptiness, silence, and what’s generally termed the trivial. He even brings to mind the effect produced by those dream stones that ancient Chinese scholars were so fond of, as well as Japanese cinema, and certain images by the great Indian director Satyajit Ray in a 21st-century version. This was his response to the possible Asian influence.