Wolfgang Tillmans’s Best Friend?

The artist’s intimate new work keeps us guessing

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Lap, b, 2012 © Wolfgang Tillmans, courtesy Maureen Paley, London

Wolfgang Tillmans’s Best Friend?

The artist’s intimate new work keeps us guessing

Wolfgang Tillmans has been pushing the boundaries of his medium using digital technology to take photographs that are so detailed they feel hallucinatory, bringing everything into sharp focus in a way that’s simply impossible for the naked eye to do. What remains truly remarkable about his work however, is how he can make even a tough-skinned foot snapped in an apparently offhand manner on a gray day, seem like the most captivating and desirable thing in the world.

For “central nervous system,” on view at Maureen Paley in London through November 24, he’s put aside the globe-trotting vision of recent projects to return to one of his favorite subjects: men. A series of portraits get up close with a single man, Karl, at indistinguishable sites from Switzerland’s Utoquai to Paris to Cambridge Heath Road in London where the artist has his studio. Tillmans dwells lovingly on the nape of Karl’s neck, his hands, the fine hairs of an armpit, turning ordinary moments into intimate encounters: We see Karl sleeping on a plane, warming up on a sports field and tending to a pot plant. Is this a lover, friend or assistant? The photographer keeps us looking and guessing.