text by Adam Lehrer
Multi-disciplinary artist and photographer Wolfgang Tillmans got signed to David Zwirner and has been living in New York for a month up until his current exhibition. By all accounts, he seems to be having a fucking blast. He’s been out at clubs, DJing Fire Island parties, and making a ton of art, according to a David Zwirner employee. But judging from his massive new David Zwirner exhibit, PCR (aka polymerase chain reaction), Joie de Vivre is a quality propelling the essence that makes Tillmans’s work fantastic. To him, people going out to dance, party, and express themselves is the ultimate form of protest.
“What I love about music more than anything is that by all measures, music is useless,” he says at a press preview of the exhibit. “This exhibition has an insistence on clubbing and playing. Take Glastonbury Festival for example, in some sense it’s very political, and in another sense it’s five days of absolute nonsense and fun. That is connected. “
Fun and politics need not be separate within Tillmans’s visual language. On the contrary, the two concepts are parallel to one another, a notion exemplified in the work displayed at PCR. The exhibit reads as a comprehensive look into the major themes that define his work: political progress, the exuberance of the nightclub, the power of music, and universal progress.
Numerous photographs line the walls of Zwirner depicting various artists and activists. The surroundings they exist within are different but their message is inherently similar. There are familiar faces from American pop culture like Patti Smith and MC Ride of Death Grips, artists that use their massive platforms to unleash their messages of revolution unto the world. But there are also activists that don’t have the platform that a media figure has, but nevertheless engage in protest whether they believe they are or not. The nightclub, to Tillmans, is a “sanctuary of free expression.” “Many of the photographs depict men having fun at gay clubs in Russia,” says Tillmans. “There are only two gay clubs in Moscow, and these places are the only places that these people can go and fully express themselves.
Despite Tillman’s exuberant outlook on life, he is a diligent curator, and was involved with every aspect in the development of this show. “He’s extremely thorough,” says David Zwirner Special Projects coordinator and artist Young Sun Han. “When he first came to Zwirner he gave us a presentation with a rundown of his entire career.”
Tillmans has always engaged with the curatorial aspect of his exhibitions as another form of expression, and not a burden. Within the PCR exhibit, every angle at which the work is displayed is meticulously thought out, even with some of the photographs that hang 15 feet in the air above the normal line of sight. “My mother always gets angry,” says Tillmans with a grin, “Why do you need to put it all the way up there?”
A table installation in the gallery’s back room, TSC (Time Mirrored), combines photographs of architecture and telescopes with statements considering the massiveness of time, and a sculpture, I Refuse to be Your Enemy, consists of black paper laid out along several tables. These structures act as a kind of element to focus the attention on, as a reprieve from the visual stimuli. These structures allow the viewer to consider the messages relayed from the content within the imagery.
The final item of the gallery is a brand new video piece, entitled Instrument. In the video, you see human figures dancing in the shadow in the right screen, while a man gyrating needlessly appears with his back to the screen on the left. While the video seems to be message-less, In Tillmans’s view there is never any expression that is left devoid of subtext. “The politics are never far out,” says Tillmans. There is sexuality in Tillmans’s work, but it is not racy or even sexual. It’s more about freedom. “I always want to show sexuality but never show sex or any one idea of sexual identity,” he says. “I just want people to achieve comfort with their bodies.”
PCR appears to emphasize living as the ultimate means of expression. Not just the idea of breathing and having a pulse, but to live life to the fullest of your own definition of the term. We as a people can set an example for generations to come by living how we wanted to live. That is how society will continue its journey forward.
Adam Lehrer is a writer, journalist, and art and fashion critic based in New York City. On top of being Autre’s fashion and art correspondent, he is also a regular contributor to Forbes Magazine. His unique interests in punk, hip hop, skateboarding and subculture have given him a distinctive, discerning eye and voice in the world of culture, et al. Oh, and he also loves The Sopranos. Follow him on Instagram: @adam102287
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