Lot 2
  • 2

Wolfgang Tillmans

150,000 - 200,000 GBP
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  • Wolfgang Tillmans
  • Greifbar 26
  • signed and numbered 1/1+1 on a label affixed to the backing board
  • c-print mounted on aluminium, in artist's frame
  • image: 227 by 171 cm. 89 3/8 by 67 1/4 in.
  • framed: 238 by 181 cm. 93 3/4 by 71 1/4 in.
  • Executed in 2014, this work is number 1 from an edition of 1, plus 1 artist's proof.


Galerie Buchholz, Berlin

Acquired from the above by the present owner


Colour: The colours in the catalogue illustration are fairly accurate, although the overall tonality of the blue is deeper and richer in the original and the colour illustration fails to fully convey the different colour gradients visible in the original. Condition: Please refer to the department for a professional condition report.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

Comprising the psychedelic Mental Pictures, sculptural Lighter works, elegant Paper Drop, and the delicate sfumato Freischwimmer, Wolfgang Tillmans' acclaimed photographic abstraction forms an arresting complement to the poignant and often politicised bent of his figurative work. Belonging to the Freischwimmer family and created in 2014, Greifbar 26 stands at the pinnacle of this elegiac body of work. Indeed, another Greifbar piece Greifbar 29 – was chosen for the catalogue front cover of the celebrated exhibition, Wolfgang Tillmans, at Tate Modern this year. Meaning palpable in English, these works are characterised by a staccato pulse of fluid tendrils, which in the present example find articulation in deepest blue. Created by exposing light and developing chemicals onto undeveloped photographic paper, the Greifbar mine the evocative palpability suggested by their title: at once celestial and elegiac, these are cryptic pictures that blur the boundaries between photography and painting.

In Greifbar 26 delicate fronds and ink-like veins appear to defy gravity, migrating towards the upper region of the photograph and beyond its pictorial field. As though galvanised by osmosis, a density of erupting blue dye morphs and diffuses into an abstract amalgamation of pigment. Simultaneously, thin reels of monochrome colour float and curve, misting into dense clouds before unravelling and dissolving across the surface of the image.  An enigma, the present work is non-representational yet it contains a quasi-figurative reality. The composition alludes to the natural elements: rain, fire, and water, a landscape drawn into abstraction, awash with liquid effusions and stunning mist formations, both in and out of focus. Tillmans’ exact photographic method has never been explicitly disclosed, a discretion that further espouses the mysterious quality that is a central part of these works.

Art historically, this elusive painterly quality is reminiscent of the powerful colour depictions of the Abstract Expressionists. However, the present work is perhaps most closely aligned with Yves Klein’s famous Anthropométries. In terms of colour and composition, Greifbar 26 evokes the swathes of blue IKB pigment applied via the bodily movement of Klein’s ‘living paintbrushes’. Where Klein used his models as human brushstrokes, Tillmans manipulates light as though it were painterly pigment; the result is a photographic form of abstraction that possesses something of the close palpability of bodily presence. Indeed, the artist’s interest in the human body, as exemplified by his early figurative works, has over time evolved into an abstract practice that is nonetheless closely linked to corporeal perceptions: where the Mental Pictures and Super Collider works engage with the idea of music and light, the Blushes, Freischwimmer, and Greifbar pictures evoke the gestural human quality of expressionistic abstract painting.

Although divorced from the camera, these photographic images nonetheless operate within the intersection between analogue and digital processes. By exposing photographic paper in the darkroom to light and chemicals, chance plays a vital role the creation of these works. As Tillmans has explained: “what connects all my work is finding the right balance between intention and chance, doing as much as I can and knowing when to let go, allowing fluidity and avoiding anything being forced” (Wolfgang Tillmans in conversation with Dominic Eicher, Frieze Magazine, Issue 118, October 2008, online). Ultimately Tillmans does not seek to depict reality, rather, he interprets and recreates it, working with light to create an alternative actuality, a way of creating photographic images free from pedagogy and preconception.