TABLEAUX PICTURES PHOTOGRAPHS
The Canadian artist Jeff Wall is one of the most significant image-makers of our time, and one of photography’s masters. Every single one of his images are prepared with the same care as if it were a theater piece developing in several acts.
Jeff Wall (born in 1946) is a modern classic. His pieces will be reference points when the history of art in the last few decades of the twentieth century is written. His iconic images captivate the audience by means of an unfolding and never fully explained or transparent story. As the artist states, “It’s you who write the script”. Hereby we are invited to imagine our own way into Wall’s highly well-composed pictures.
The exhibition included 35 of the artist’s most important works from the years 1996-2013 - presenting his famous light boxes as well as colour and black-and-white photographs. The exhibition was the result of a co-operation with Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam and Kunsthaus Bregenz in Austria.
Since the 1970s Jeff Wall has used photography as a medium. Not just as an alternative to painting, but in entirely new ways that also use other means than the medium’s obvious documentary potential.
He thus stands as one of those who have introduced photography to the world of art.
As the title of the exhibition Tableaux Pictures Photographs indicates, Wall wants us to see his works as all three concepts at the same time: as free-standing and autonomous objects that we confront hanging on a wall, they can be understood as ‘paintings’ – the literal translation of the French word tableaux, as ‘pictures’ in a broader context, and finally as ‘photographs’ – a term that identifies them as products of the technical medium.
A maestro of modern photography
Jeff Wall is from Vancouver, Canada, where he also lives and has his studio today. In the 1970s he began to produce and exhibit his large-scale transparent photographs mounted on add-like light boxes, which became his first artistic hallmark. In 1992 Wall visited Louisiana for the first time with works from the 1970s onward.
Jeff Wall has continuously developed and experimented with his approach to photography as a medium. In 1996 he made his first black-and-white photographs, which among many other of Wall’s more recent works are a part of the current exhibition.
Furthermore, Wall is educated as an art historian from The University of British Columbia, Vancouver and alongside his work as an artist he has written and theorized on issues of art, photography and representation – these thoughts and perspectives often find their way to his artistic practice where they are unfold in various ways in his photographic works.
PICTURES LIKE POEMS
Discover what inspires and motivates Jeff Wall. In connection to the artist’s solo show - Louisiana Channel talked to the him about selected works in the exhibition at Louisiana and his conception of art in general.
In the video you can among other things hear about how his pictures are intended to work like poems - where the meaning of the artwork has to come to you by means of what it makes you feel.
Jeff Wall is famous for declaring that his artwork “does not begin with the photograph”, a position that shows his emphasis on the idea of the work over its material execution.
The starting point may be something the artist has seen, felt or remembered, but his works are never strict reconstructions hereof.
Often lengthy preparations come before the final work. One of the exhibition’s most recent works is Monologue from 2013. It depicts a group of three darkly dressed middle-aged men in conversation late at night under the light of a streetlamp. The artist knows the three men very well. The figure in the far right of the photo is Wall’s brother, whereas the two others are close friends of the brother. Intrigued by their conversations and interactions, Wall decided that he would photograph them.
Immediately, the three men seem to be located in a residential neighborhood with tall pines, bushes, a metal fence and a darkly lit estate in the background. But when taking a closer look, one will notice that the three men are actually standing on a stage as in a theater. It is only the background scene that depicts an outdoor environment while the chairs and the deck they stand on mark an indoor space.
The photo appears staged, and Wall invites us to interpret the stories of the work: Is it a subject of three men at the foot of the cross? Are they waiting for something? Or have they gone to a secluded place to discuss a private matter? The viewer can only guess, while the scene maintains suspense and curiosity.
Purchased with funds from the New Carlsberg Foundation in 2015, the work is a new acquisition for the Louisiana Collection.
WE ARE ALL ACTORS
“Acting is inherent in being” according to Jeff Wall – and when he works with people while making his photographic works, Wall makes them repeat the actions in the same way, over and over again. In Louisiana Channel’s video you can see the artist in conversation with Belgian art historian Thierry De Duve – and learn more about how Wall works with people, places and motifs in his large-scale photographs.
Composed like paintings
Wall composes his pictures just like a painter, especially in terms of the placing of his figures, and scales the works up or down to achieve the desired effect. Coupled with the specific ability of photography to capture the surfaces of the world, his works become encounters between something real – a motif from the absolutely ordinary world – and something less real that has a filmic and poetic effect.
The image-maker Wall finds his models in art history, literature and elsewhere. Some photographs appear to be linked to images dating back to the Renaissance, while others draw on the cinematic and snapshot traditions.
The artist is particularly inspired by the way older periods use figures to create a visual narrative, as seen in paintings by the masters of the Baroque, or by an artist like Manet. Hereby Wall inscribes his photographic works in the long history of art.