The incredible work of the acclaimed German artist Wolfgang Tillmans has arrived at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) and it is truly breathtaking.  TO LOOK WITHOUT FEAR is a massive retrospective is the artist’s first solo exhibition in Canada following his successful showing at MOMA.

The exhibition that fills the entire contemporary gallery on the fifth floor of the AGO features over 300 of his works. The range of his work dating from the 1980s pushes the imagination of tradition photography from windowsill stills to abstracts. It also offers an intimate look at people and amplifies social issues across the globe. But not only does each and every image draw you in, it’s also how he presents them in the space.

“What is so moving about Wolfgang’s work are the individual pictures and the way they’ve been installed on the walls,” said show curator Sophie Hackett, curator of Photography, AGO. “They invite us to be in a relationship to each other. It’s the relation between picture to each picture but also the implication is how we are in relation with each to one another.  Wolfgang reminds us about how important that is. His work gives us a reason for coming together in this way.”

Wolfgang Tillmans AGO Toronto. photo credit: Sonya D

Tillmans, who was also in Toronto for the installation tells visitors at the opening night event that he had spent 14 days and nights, along with his personal team and the AGO team putting everything into place.

“This is such a pleasure for me because I’ve literally been waiting 30 years for this moment for my first solo exhibition in Canada,” said Tillmans.

Wolfgang Tillmans AGO Toronto.

And it’s a soul rewarding exhibition. When I had explored the works I went through it three times in one night. Each time I found myself looking up and down and all around. Absorbing and discovering images as well as other details that I hadn’t seen before.

“It’s my tallest exhibition ever. The highest picture in the show you may discover it is 9 metres and 30 hung high. It’s an incredible infrastructure here on the 5th floor of the AGO,” said Tillmans.

Then, there is how the works are displayed. Some in frames but many just with tape. Some with binder clips in this site specific installation that takes the architectural space very much into consideration. There are also no labels accompanying the work. Tillmans invites visitors to explore the gallery uninterrupted and with curiousity.

The exhibition flows with 10 groupings that represents his amazing career to date. Starting with his early photography. He then moves to portraitures and subculture incorporating photocopies and magazine clippings Tillmans also has a cool obsession for astronomy where we learned about his “boundaries of the visible.”  Pick up an exhibition guide to explore if you like, or better yet, grab one of his publications in the gift shop for a deeper dive.

Wolfgang Tillmans AGO Toronto. photo credit: Sonya D

The AGO is also screening Moon in Earthlight (2021) which is Wolfgang’s first full length album. A visual soundtrack that was created during the Covid-19 pandemic. The screening is about 50 minutes long and will play continuously on these dates:

Screenings for Moon in Earthlight are scheduled for…

Wednesday, April 12, 6:00 – 9:00 pm
Thursday, April 13, 2:00 – 5:00 pm
Friday, April 14, 6:00 – 9:00 pm

Wolfgang Tillmans AGO Toronto opening night party. photo credit: Eng C Lau

About Wolfgang Tillmans

Born in 1968 in Remscheid, Germany, Wolfgang Tillmans studied at Bournemouth and Poole College of Art and Design in Bournemouth, England, from 1990 to 1992. Relentlessly pushing to find ways to make new pictures in our image-saturated world, Tillmans has, throughout his career, explored and integrated photography’s many genres, techniques and presentation strategies.

In 2000, Tillmans was the first photographer and first non-British artist to receive the Turner Prize, an award given annually by Tate in London. In recent years, Tillmans has been more directly involved in political activism. In tandem with his ongoing Truth Study Center project (begun in 2005), he has created posters for the anti-Brexit campaign in Britain and in response to right-wing populism in Germany. Fragile, a major touring solo exhibition of the artist’s work, opened in 2018 at the Musée d’Art Contemporain et Multimédias in Kinshasa, with the final stop taking place at Art Twenty One and CCA, Lagos in 2022. (source: AGO)

Wolfgang Tillmans has also been named Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2023. You can link to their article here. 

Wolfgang Tillmans ‘To look without fear’ runs until October 1, 2023 at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Admission is always FREE for AGO Members, AGO Annual Pass Holders & Visitors 25 and under. More information can be found here at www.ago.ca 

This exhibition was organized at the AGO by Sophie Hackett, Curator, Photography, with Marina Dumont-Gauthier, Curatorial Fellow, Photography, To look without fear was developed by Roxana Marcoci, The David Dechman Senior Curator and Acting Chief Curator, Department of Photography, The Museum of Modern Art with Caitlin Ryan, Curatorial Assistant, and Phil Taylor, former Curatorial Assistant, Department of Photography, The Museum of Modern Art.

*All photos were taken at the Opening Night Celebration for Wolfgang Tillmans ‘To look without fear’ exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario, April 12, 2023.