Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
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© Wolfgang Tillmans | San Francisco, 1995; courtesy the artist, David Zwirner, New York / Hong Kong, Galerie Buchholz, Berlin / Cologne, Maureen Paley, London

SAN FRANCISCO, CA — This November, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) opens Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear, the most comprehensive exhibition of the artist’s work to date. Organized by The Museum of Modern Art, New York, the survey includes iconic works by Tillmans in photography, video and multimedia installation, a diverse practice united by the artist’s profoundly inventive philosophical approach, sensitivity and desire for human connection. To look without fear opens at SFMOMA on November 11, 2023, marking the artist’s first solo exhibition in San Francisco.

“Wolfgang Tillmans has for decades explored what it means to engage with our contemporary world through photography,” said Helen and Charles Schwab Director Christopher Bedford. “This exhibition offers visitors a full accounting of Tillmans’s boundary-defying artmaking practice, which we anticipate will find relevance in a broad range of audiences. His work challenges the hierarchies that govern where we should look, and reminds us of what we might see if we choose not to look away.”

To look without fear offers viewers an in-depth look at the work of Wolfgang Tillmans, charting the development of his practice according to a loose chronology beginning in the 1980s through the present day. Tillmans considers the role of the artist to be, among other things, that of “an amplifier.” He works across every imaginable genre of photography, continually exploring how to make pictures meaningful. From early experiments with a photocopier to his acclaimed portraits, ecstatic images of nightlife, documents of social movements and his cameraless abstractions, the broad range of the artist’s subject matter reveals a steadfast commitment to engage unflinchingly with the world.

“Tillmans first visited San Francisco in 1995, and has a deep affection for the Bay Area,” said Erin O’Toole, SFMOMA Curator and Head of Photography. “SFMOMA is thrilled to be hosting his solo debut here, which is so long overdue.”

The exhibition reflects Tillmans’s distinct approach to presenting his work. “I see my installations as a reflection of the way I see, the way I perceive or want to perceive my environment,” Tillmans has said. “They’re also always a world that I want to live in.” The artist plays an integral role in designing and installing his exhibitions, which feature photographs both framed and unframed, arranged in constellations that extend from floor to ceiling, magazine pages taped to the wall, photocopies, video projections, and tabletop displays. The artist’s attention to the physical manifestation of his work extends from a longstanding investigation of the poetic and material possibilities of the photographic medium.

Visitors to the exhibition will have the opportunity to experience Tillmans’s rarely seen work Book for Architects (2014), a two-channel video installation made from a compilation of 450 images from 37 countries taken by the artist over the course of a decade. On two screens presented at an angle reminiscent of an open book, the work collects Tillmans’s observations of architecture and its relationship to everyday life.

Also presented in this exhibition will be the installation Truth Study Center, an ongoing project which was first presented by Tillmans in 2005, and brings together his own photographs, clippings, ephemera, and printouts of newspaper and magazine articles arranged on tabletops. In this body of work, Tillmans continually interrogates notions of absolutism while also acknowledging the universal human desire to search for truth. Half of the tables presented in To look without fear contain material from 2005–07, while the other half has been composed using recent material.


Since the early 1990s, Wolfgang Tillmans (b. 1968, Remscheid, Germany) has lived and worked in London, New York, Berlin, Cologne and Fire Island. In a career spanning almost four decades, he has consistently redefined the medium of photography through a seamless integration of genres, subjects, techniques, and exhibition strategies. In addition to his expansive photographic work, his practice extends to include musical recording and songwriting, as well as significant engagements with architecture and design. His foundation, Between Bridges, supports the advancement of democracy, international understanding, the arts and LGBTQ+ rights; previously Between Bridges was a nonprofit exhibition space in London (2007–11) and Berlin (2014–19) directed by Tillmans.

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
San Francisco
November 11, 2023
March 3, 2024
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