BY Dominic Eichler in Reviews | 04 APR 02
Featured in
Issue 66


NGBK, Berlin, Germany

BY Dominic Eichler in Reviews | 04 APR 02

Seeing a group of Wolfgang Tillmans' photographs is like recognizing an acquaintance in a crowd or someone from a magazine, the difference being that you're a bit older, but they still look fresh. That art objects have a life of their own is one of their oddly comforting attractions - if their makers want them to, they can appear to cheat time, at least temporarily. Tillmans is one of the few contemporary photographers who has repeatedly fixed compelling images of the things and people around him. His earlier photographs are accessible and likeable, by turns amusing, melancholy and erotic - qualities shared by Jochen Klein's paintings. Klein's Untitled (1997), for example, depicts a reclining delicate pale pink youth in blue trousers musing with his feet crossed - perhaps dreaming of his own perfection - as a forest dissolves into pastel drips, dabs and washes around him.

A selection of the two men's work comprised the second part of a three-part exhibition series entitled 'Partnerschaften' (Partnerships). Tillmans' frequent compositional homages to the still life and Klein's appropriation of photographic soft core both provide plenty of material for an exhibition on the relationship between painting and photography. But here the chosen curatorial frame was something else. 'Partnerschaften' is a continuation of a larger project at NGBK Unterbrochene Karrieren (interrupted careers) devoted to the work of artists who died before their time. The 'Partnerschaften' series gives this idea an additional emotional burden by exhibiting work by three artist couples, where one partner died of an AIDS-related illness. This premise created some discomfort that was manifested by a desire to 'look at the work' and avoid thinking about the biographical, but then again neutrality isn't a prerequisite for a good exhibition.

Klein's early 1990s collaborative projects and texts with Thomas Eggerer and Group Material dealt critically with questions of representation and identity with regard to social and cultural minorities. In 'Partnerschaften 1' Tom Burr, who also has critical motivations, used the idea of framing the view of Ull Hohn's paintings as the conceptual starting point for their exhibition. Burr's big, pseudo-solid wooden black sculptures Container (1-3) (2001), based on concrete originals by Donald Judd, prevented any quick appraisal of Hohn's works, and seemed confrontational and funereal. Hohn's paintings from the late 1980s and early 1990s are a kind of mental wrestling with petrification in the medium: even the most delicate of them has a toughness that doesn't rely on a retreat into a phantom-like artist-world. His work such as Untitled (Review) (1991), one of a series of beige monochromes with smeared, lumpy gestural surfaces, involves keeping faith in the medium while challenging its dogmas.

In 'Partnerschaften 2' Tillmans took a more personal approach. It appeared that he viewed the exhibition primarily as an opportunity to celebrate the time that he had with Klein. Crucial to the exhibition was Tillmans' decision to install the show himself. He came up with a chronological, biographically driven arrangement of the work - a beginning, a middle and a difficult and unexpected end. Tillmans chose to show his photographs mainly in modest sizes so that they could share walls with, and embrace the space around, Klein's paintings. Harmonious cohabitation is something to be treasured. In some ways it was as if the exhibition attempted to recapture the spirit of the artists' former home, which was the setting for moving photographs such as Jochen Taking a Bath (1997) and o.M. (1997). Klein and Tillmans obviously shared much. Tillmans' portraits of Kate Moss with fresh fruit, including Kate McQueen (1996) commissioned by Vogue, are a glowing example of an unofficial collaboration between him and Klein. It is easy to see how these photographs relate to Klein's contemporaneous paintings of waifs in lush, semi-abstract environs.

Dominic Eichler is a Berlin-based writer, former contributing editor of frieze and now co-director of Silberkuppe, Berlin.