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When visitors go to see Wolfgang Tillmans’s new retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, one of the first things they’ll likely notice is that few pictures are presented in a frame. Most are instead pinned or taped directly to the wall; adorning nearly every service on the museum, six floor and arranged, not by rows, but in clusters, kind of like constellations in the night sky. And that’s an analogy that the 54-year-old artist might himself appreciate given his abiding love of outer space. “Astronomy,” he once said, “was my visual initiation into seeing.”

A cosmological awe pervades “To Look Without fear,” as MoMA’s exhibition is called—even though Tillmans’s subject matter is often quite quotidian.  More than 300 of the artist’s photographs are included spanning his nearly four decade career from his experiments with a photocopier as a student in Germany in the late 1980s and his editorial efforts for Index and I-D magazines in London and New York in the 90’s, to his darkroom abstractions of the early 2000’s and beyond.

But Tillmans’s practice has always resisted strict taxonomization, and that’s true here, too; what’s on view is not a series of discrete bodies of work but a kind of diaristic journey through the artist’s life: his friends, his lovers; his work, his play; his experience with loss and living with HIV and his constant consideration of what it means to interpret it all through the technology of photography. No lens-based artist revels in the simple profundity of the medium like him.

On view now through January 1st of next year, To Look Without Fear is a sprawling, years-in-the-making presentation that rightly casts Tillmans among the today’s most important working artists. Ahead of the show’s opening, Artnet News’s Taylor Dafoe sat down with Tillmans at MoMA for a conversation about language, looking back in time, and how staring into the cosmos taught him to appreciate life on earth.

“Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear” is on view through January 1, 2023 at the Museum of Modern Art.

 

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