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Jeff Wall
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Wikipedia About Jeff Wall

Jeffrey “Jeff” Wall, OC, RSA (born September 29, 1946) is a Canadian artist best known for his large-scale back-lit cibachrome photographs and art history writing. Wall has been a key figure in Vancouver’s art scene since the early-1970s. Early in his career, he helped define the Vancouver School and he has published essays on the work of his colleagues and fellow Vancouverites Rodney Graham, Ken Lum and Ian Wallace. His photographic tableaux often take Vancouver’s mixture of natural beauty, urban decay and postmodern and industrial featurelessness as their backdrop. Full Wikipedia Article

essay Jeff Wall, Walker Art Center Collections, 2005

Jeff Wall’s photographs invite staring. His monumental, dramatically staged narratives revolve around seemingly ordinary events, such as businessmen caught in a windstorm, custodians carrying out chores, or pedestrians eyeing one another on the street. These scenarios are played out on an epic scale, with the kind of luminous color, compositional structure, and authority more typically associated with painting. His visual language may borrow broadly from eighteenth- and nineteenth-century painting traditions, but the imagery is expressed photographically, utilizing the medium’s capacity for documentation and fragmentation to construct spectacular fictions. In Wall’s handling of the medium, the photograph proves the perfect vehicle for such contemporary allegories—somewhat gritty, but sumptuous tales of everyday life.

His images tend to re-create events that might actually have occurred, but passed without notice, producing what he describes as “near documentary” photographs. He utilizes actors and props to reconstruct these scenes, taking great care to present fantastic, chaotic, or even exceptionally banal imagery as plausible records. In the camera’s absorptive retelling of such events, they emerge as strangely compelling bits of cinema; despite their realism, there is the lingering sense that these are not actual occurrences at all, but perfectly inscribed fabrications, pulled from a larger narrative.

In Morning Cleaning, Mies van der Rohe Foundation, Barcelona, a scene that opens onto the pavilion designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe for the 1929 Barcelona International Exhibition, the image is suspiciously devoid of fanfare for what is one of the most emblematic structures of modernist architecture and design. The interior space is exquisitely spare, attended only by a pair of iconic so-called Barcelona chairs, several ottomans, and a custodian who is unceremoniously cleaning the window. His presence immediately alters the reading of the space as an architectural monument, and recalibrates it to include the human presence of the staff that maintains the place. Suddenly this anonymous figure becomes the focal point of the narrative. He is, of course, like all of Wall’s characters, a fictional figure, posed and directed to give the appearance of a custodian at work. The unlikely juxtaposition is comical, a sly comment on the constant scrubbing and maintenance of modernist ideologies.

    Gaston, Diana. “Jeff Wall.” In Bits & Pieces Put Together to Present a Semblance of a Whole: Walker Art Center Collections, edited by Joan Rothfuss and Elizabeth Carpenter. Minneapolis, MN: Walker Art Center, 2005.

    © 2005 Walker Art Center