Review: Wolfgang Tillmans retrospective in Berlin

Berlin’s Hamburger Bahnhof museum for contemporary art might be honouring German photographer Wolfgang Tillmans with a retrospective, but Daniel Miller isn’t buying into the hype.

Review: Wolfgang Tillmans retrospective in Berlin
Photo: DPA

Wolfgang Tillmans was the first non-UK artist to win Britain’s illustrious Turner Prize. And as the only photographer and the youngest artist ever to be so honoured, the Reimscheid-born, London-based snapper is undoubtedly one of the most celebrated photographers of his generation.

A huge new retrospective at Berlin’s Hamburger Bahnhof presents a unique opportunity to take in a broad selection of his work. It’s the most extensive Tillmans exhibition ever on German soil, including some two hundred photos taken from every aspect and period of his varied career.

Of course, much of Tillmans’ vast reputation rests on his eclecticism. He’s not simply a fashion snapper, but also an abstractionist. He’s not just an abstractionist, but also a landscaper. He’s not only a landscaper, but also a portrait artist. Tillmans is a genre-bending magpie behind the lens.

This stands in marked contrast to his compatriot Andreas Gursky, whose trademark vast pictures are instantly recognizable. Instead, Tillmans has built a career on consistently defying stylistic expectations. This latest exhibition in Berlin drives that point home, sprinkling minimalist colour fields in amongst pictures of penises, reconstructing the 2000 Turner Prize-winning room in its entirety, and stressing the value of Tillman’s post 9-11 political table installation “Truth Study Centre” along the other major veins of his work.

All of this heralded diversity should really add-up to something. Sadly, it doesn’t. Across all of his many styles and forms, Tillmans comes across in his own retrospective as an extremely unexceptional artist.

Two or three of his pictures shine with exceptional quality, but the bulk of the rest is stunningly average, and a significant part recalls (unhappily) sentimentalized backdrops for smoothie ads. Despite Tillmans’s fascination with details, telling details always seem to elude him. As a result, visitors can end up wandering the exhibition for hours never without encounter a truly arresting image.

Of course, Tillmans began his career working for style magazines like i-D and The Face, publications blurring the boundary between PR and culture in the same way that Tillmans’s own technique-less aesthetic blur the boundaries between artful amateurism and simple incompetence.

More than likely, it is this “anybody could do it” populist take which lies at the heart of Tillmans’s mainstream appeal. The Hamburger Bahnhof was packed to its rafters during the opening weekend and it doubtlessly will remain so for the coming weeks and months.

Wolfgang Tillmans

“Lighter” at Berlin’s Hamburger Bahnhof

21 March-24 Aug 2008

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EXPLAINED: Berlin’s latest Covid rules

In response to rapidly rising Covid-19 infection rates, the Berlin Senate has introduced stricter rules, which came into force on Saturday, November 27th. Here's what you need to know.

A sign in front of a waxing studio in Berlin indicates the rule of the 2G system
A sign in front of a waxing studio indicates the rule of the 2G system with access only for fully vaccinated people and those who can show proof of recovery from Covid-19 as restrictions tighten in Berlin. STEFANIE LOOS / AFP

The Senate agreed on the tougher restrictions on Tuesday, November 23rd with the goal of reducing contacts and mobility, according to State Secretary of Health Martin Matz (SPD).

He explained after the meeting that these measures should slow the increase in Covid-19 infection rates, which was important as “the situation had, unfortunately, deteriorated over the past weeks”, according to media reports.

READ ALSO: Tougher Covid measures needed to stop 100,000 more deaths, warns top German virologist

Essentially, the new rules exclude from much of public life anyone who cannot show proof of vaccination or recovery from Covid-19. You’ll find more details of how different sectors are affected below.

If you haven’t been vaccinated or recovered (2G – geimpft (vaccinated) or genesen (recovered)) from Covid-19, then you can only go into shops for essential supplies, i.e. food shopping in supermarkets or to drugstores and pharmacies.

Many – but not all – of the rules for shopping are the same as those passed in the neighbouring state of Brandenburg in order to avoid promoting ‘shopping tourism’ with different restrictions in different states.

2G applies here, too, as well as the requirement to wear a mask with most places now no longer accepting a negative test for entry. Only minors are exempt from this requirement.

Sport, culture, clubs
Indoor sports halls will off-limits to anyone who hasn’t  been vaccinated or can’t show proof of recovery from Covid-19. 2G is also in force for cultural events, such as plays and concerts, where there’s also a requirement to wear a mask. 

In places where mask-wearing isn’t possible, such as dance clubs, then a negative test and social distancing are required (capacity is capped at 50 percent of the maximum).

Restaurants, bars, pubs (indoors)
You have to wear a mask in all of these places when you come in, leave or move around. You can only take your mask off while you’re sat down. 2G rules also apply here.

Hotels and other types of accommodation 
Restrictions are tougher here, too, with 2G now in force. This means that unvaccinated people can no longer get a room, even if they have a negative test.

For close-contact services, such as hairdressers and beauticians, it’s up to the service providers themselves to decide whether they require customers to wear masks or a negative test.

Football matches and other large-scale events
Rules have changed here, too. From December 1st, capacity will be limited to 5,000 people plus 50 percent of the total potential stadium or arena capacity. And only those who’ve been vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19 will be allowed in. Masks are also compulsory.

For the Olympic Stadium, this means capacity will be capped at 42,000 spectators and 16,000 for the Alte Försterei stadium. 

3G rules – ie vaccinated, recovered or a negative test – still apply on the U-Bahn, S-Bahn, trams and buses in Berlin. It was not possible to tighten restrictions, Matz said, as the regulations were issued at national level.

According to the German Act on the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases, people have to wear a surgical mask or an FFP2 mask  on public transport.

Christmas markets
The Senate currently has no plans to cancel the capital’s Christmas markets, some of which have been open since Monday. 

According to Matz, 2G rules apply and wearing a mask is compulsory.

Schools and day-care
Pupils will still have to take Covid tests three times a week and, in classes where there are at least two children who test positive in the rapid antigen tests, then tests should be carried out daily for a week.  

Unlike in Brandenburg, there are currently no plans to move away from face-to-face teaching. The child-friendly ‘lollipop’ Covid tests will be made compulsory in day-care centres and parents will be required to confirm that the tests have been carried out. Day-care staff have to document the results.

What about vaccination centres?
Berlin wants to expand these and set up new ones, according to Matz. A new vaccination centre should open in the Ring centre at the end of the week and 50 soldiers from the German army have been helping at the vaccination centre at the Exhibition Centre each day since last week.

The capacity in the new vaccination centre in the Lindencenter in Lichtenberg is expected to be doubled. There are also additional vaccination appointments so that people can get their jabs more quickly. Currently, all appointments are fully booked well into the new year.