Wolfgang Tillmans at The Common Guild

Wolfgang Tillmans A New Installation,  with works from the Arts Council Collection 20 April – 23 June 2012, The Common Guild, Glasgow. Installation photograph by Ruth Clark


It’s really something special to get an opportunity to see an exhibition of work by an artist you’ve only read about, looked at pictures of their work in books and online. To see the print, ‘in the flesh’, in front of you, has a magical quality. At least, you hope it does! My recent experience at The Common Guild, in their house-turned-gallery in Glasgow gave me some of that magic.

Originally exhibited for the Glasgow International Arts Festival (GI) in May, the new installation of Wolfgang Tillmans’ work is still on show for another few weeks, and if you get the chance, go and see it.

The space suits the work. You travel through the gallery, once a living room, a family staircase…a bedroom perhaps, encountering the combinations of works as you go. It’s always been a curiosity of mine to see a Tillmans’ exhibition, in particular, the hang and how it works. Will the juxtaposition and conglomerations of prints suit the space? Echo the ideals of the artist that I’ve read about? Does it still ‘work’ as a device? As with all exhibitions, there are good points and bad points. There is a clear attempt at curating the different spaces in the gallery; the ground floor room, the upstairs room, the corridor spaces and  stairwell linking it together. Here’s an interesting thing; the work downstairs, is mostly all framed, with the work ascending the stairwell and in the upstairs space, presented as unframed prints, with one exception; the signature Onion (2010) image used in the promotion material from the gallery .

This is a beautiful image. It is a large, framed, C-Type pint. It is sumptuous to look at and exciting to get up close to and one of the reasons it is worth seeing the work in person. (It’s also the image used on their poster for the show, so now I have my very own to decorate my bedroom wall…)

In my opinion, this work in the upstairs space, stands head and shoulders above the rest of the prints  in the room. It is also radically different in subject matter, the rest involving people. As a result they feel disjointed, and not in a good way. Opposite the onion, (see below) there is a whole wall of small prints, unframed, presented awkwardly in an attempt to use the architectural features (cupboards?) of the room. The installation of these works don’t add anything to the exhibition and it feels arbitrary in comparison to the way the installation of the photographs downstairs work so well. Also, these prints are gloss, they reflect everything in the room and they aren’t flat against the wall, which is frustrating rather than democratic. Frankly, I was more interested in the view from the large bay window down towards the Clyde.

However, what might appear to be total disparagement and negativity is actually thickly veiled disappointment. The rest of the exhibition is excellent, and I simply wanted this to continue to all corners of it. On arrival, for example, the first print you are face with is the Paperdrop (London) (2008) image that delivers everything that its reproductions have always promised it would, and more. This extends to the ‘unique’ photographs encased in perspex, that come alive, only in their 3D state, as light and creases come together in time and space.

“I love the piece of paper itself, this lush, crisp thing. A piece of photographic paper has its own elegance, how it bows when you have it hanging in one hand or in two and manipulate it, expose it to light – I guess it is quite a gestural thing.” [WT]

Scale amazes, paper is lush. Individual photographs and groups of others provide mystical worlds to fall into.

On until 23rd June, The Common Guild 21 Woodlands Terrace, Glasgow G3 6DF. All images by Ruth Clark.


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