The Art Angle Podcast: How the Universe Taught Wolfgang Tillmans to Make Art

The artist's show "To Look Without Fear" is on view at MoMA through January 1, 2023.

Wolfgang Tillmans. 2022. Photo by Dan Ipp.

Welcome to the Art Angle, a podcast from Artnet News that delves into the places where the art world meets the real world, bringing each week’s biggest story down to earth. Join us every week for an in-depth look at what matters most in museums, the art market, and much more, with input from our own writers and editors, as well as artists, curators, and other top experts in the field.


When visitors go to see Wolfgang Tillmans’s new retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, one of the first things they’ll likely notice is that few pictures are presented in a frame. Most are instead pinned or taped directly to the wall; adorning nearly every service on the museum, six floor and arranged, not by rows, but in clusters, kind of like constellations in the night sky. And that’s an analogy that the 54-year-old artist might himself appreciate given his abiding love of outer space. “Astronomy,” he once said, “was my visual initiation into seeing.”

A cosmological awe pervades “To Look Without fear,” as MoMA’s exhibition is called—even though Tillmans’s subject matter is often quite quotidian.  More than 300 of the artist’s photographs are included spanning his nearly four decade career from his experiments with a photocopier as a student in Germany in the late 1980s and his editorial efforts for Index and I-D magazines in London and New York in the 90’s, to his darkroom abstractions of the early 2000’s and beyond.

But Tillmans’s practice has always resisted strict taxonomization, and that’s true here, too; what’s on view is not a series of discrete bodies of work but a kind of diaristic journey through the artist’s life: his friends, his lovers; his work, his play; his experience with loss and living with HIV and his constant consideration of what it means to interpret it all through the technology of photography. No lens-based artist revels in the simple profundity of the medium like him.

On view now through January 1st of next year, To Look Without Fear is a sprawling, years-in-the-making presentation that rightly casts Tillmans among the today’s most important working artists. Ahead of the show’s opening, Artnet News’s Taylor Dafoe sat down with Tillmans at MoMA for a conversation about language, looking back in time, and how staring into the cosmos taught him to appreciate life on earth.

“Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear” is on view through January 1, 2023 at the Museum of Modern Art.


Listen to more episodes:

The Art Angle Podcast: Rick Lowe on How Art Can Solve Real-World Problems

The Art Angle Podcast: How K-Pop and Connoisseurship Made Seoul a New Art Capital

The Art Angle Podcast: How the Art World in Ukraine’s Besieged Capital Is Fighting Back [Re-Air]

The Art Angle Podcast: How Virgil Abloh Changed the Contemporary Art World

The Art Angle Podcast: What Is the Metaverse? And Why Should the Art World Care?

The Art Angle Podcast: Why Artist Jayson Musson Is Clowning a Humorless Art World

The Art Angle Podcast: What Does the Future of NFTs Look Like Now?

Follow Artnet News on Facebook:

Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.