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exhibitions
 ARTIFACTS
Artist Mitsuhito Takeuchi is providing a bit of artistic excitement to the drab environment of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building in Shinjuku. Takeuchi is best known in Japan for public art pieces, like decking out several trains in Kochi Prefecture, Shikoku, with wild colors and designs. As part of a new project, which is designed to stimulate energy and creativity within the hallowed government halls, the artist has created a large dynamic sculptural painting that delivers a colorful blow to the perfunctory lobby of one of Japan's largest office spaces. The piece is on display in Building 1 of the Metropolitan Government building until September 3. AC

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By Jeff Michael Hammond

Wolfgang Tillmans: Freischwimmer

A German photographic artist swims against the tide

Freischwimmer 26, 2003

In her book The Turner Prize: 20 Years, Virginia Button describes Wolfgang Tillmans, who in 2000 became the first photographer to win the prestigious award, the following way: “In a world already saturated with images, Tillmans uses photography to question conventional aesthetics and codes of representation.”

Photographers who pride themselves on their technical proficiency have countered that this rhetoric is simply a cover for Tillmans’ lack of artistry and expertise. Many of his works are indeed poorly lit, out of focus; some even contain scratches and blemishes. On the other hand, he has a keen compositional eye, when he wishes to use it, often making visual patterns out of everyday objects that most people would overlook, or, if you prefer, the banal—socks left to dry on a radiator or on the floor, a friend taking a bath, an empty road.

Because Tillmans provides few signposts, reading his images, and establishing links between them, can be problematic. And unlike the great photographers he has no individual, recognizable style—he is an experimenter, a dabbler. Despite these criticisms, Tillmans has a dedicated following in Japan (as elsewhere), and they’ll be thrilled that he now has his first major Japan show with “Freischwimmer,” at the Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery.

The title “Freischwimmer,” which is also given to a series of photographs in the exhibition, is perhaps best translated not simply as “free swimmer” but rather as “someone swimming towards freedom”—in Tillmans’ case, from the formal and technical restraints of professional art practice.

Jochen taking a bath, 1997

Tillmans should probably be considered less a photographer as such and more an artist working through the medium of photography, which may help explain his disregard for conventional photographic norms in favor of presenting his oeuvre as a fluid and ongoing visual diary of his life. At the same time, he also considers any serious attempt to map out his world for either himself or the viewer as a futile exercise.

It is useful to bear in mind that the Turner Prize is awarded not for the production of good artworks in and of themselves, but for important exhibitions. This is where Tillmans comes alive—more interesting than individual works are the selection, range and presentation of his output in the exhibition.

Portraits of friends and celebrities like Morrissey and Aphex Twin jostle for space on the walls of Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery with still-life compositions and abstract experiments. Works are arranged neither by texture, format, nor size, and while some are framed, others are taped naked to the walls—all in an attempt to reassess how art should be presented.

Super Collider (refraction) c, 2003

Leaving the viewer with a jumble of images to navigate in this way has annoyed many, but Tillmans has indicated that he would like viewers to embrace this newfound game of ambiguity and free-association. His one concession to traditional mores of curatorship can be seen in the grouping together of a number of his abstract experiments, in which he exposes film directly to light in the darkroom, resulting in flat but textured planes of pure color. Super Collider (refraction) c and the Freischwimmer series add further interest through the contrast of two or more colors and the random patterning of light.

Egotistical amateur of profound artist? “Freischwimmer” is not an easy viewing experience, but it will give the undecided a chance to make up their own minds about this difficult but much-lauded figure.

Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery, through December 26. See exhibition listings for details.

Photo credit: Courtesy of the artist

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