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Overview of the most important aspects in Jeff Wall's work opens in Munich
Jeff Wall, Jell-O, 1995 transparency in lightbox, 143,5 x 180 cm Goetz Collection Courtesy of the artist© Jeff Wall.

MUNICH.- Like virtually no other artist of his generation the Canadian Jeff Wall (born in 1946 in Vancouver where he still lives) attempts to fathom the possibilities of artistic composition and the boundaries between different artistic genres. His complexly composed works hover between the documentary and the stage-set, between fiction and reality and have redefined the photographic image as a picture. From the very beginning Munich evolved into a centre for Jeff Wall’s work where it was well received and, from the early 1980s, his work was known and already being exhibited and collected here, as well as awarded prizes and included in publications.

Jeff Wall’s genuine contribution to the art of our times is the formulation of a novel pictorial concept. Using large-format transparencies mounted in lightboxes the artist introduced a revolutionary form of object into art borrowed from advertising that oscillates between the boundaries of all genres – between photography, painting, sculpture, film and television. The subject of his opulent pictorial compositions is always the conditio humana, as experienced at the close of the 20th century: dislocation, isolation, racism, urbanisation and social injustice. In so doing, Wall does not merely carry the painterly tradition forward through the medium of photography but, at the same time, anchors photography in the history of art. From the very outset Jeff Wall employed a staged photography technique while, simultaneously, furthering the documentary tradition inherent to this medium. He combines this artistic concept – that only seems contradictory at first glance – in works such as An Eviction and The Thinker in an ingenious manner, thus creating contemporary ‘history paintings’ at the centre of which the ruler or historical event is no longer to be seen but, instead, the individual and his struggle to survive in a globalised mass society.

Through the work of Jeff Wall, followed by that of the so-called Düsseldorf School, photography has been able to position itself as a central pictorial medium in contemporary art over the past thirty years. However, despite his great influence and fame, Jeff Wall still occupies a unique position even today within contemporary art history. As an artist and art historian in one he has formed an individual ‘inner academy’, a densely branched mesh of aesthetic, theoretical and philosophical reference points, from which he creates equally idiosyncratic and unique compositions. In an age of technical reproducibility, his work proves to be irreproducible.

For the Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, the acquisition of the work An Eviction (1988/2004) in 1992 represented the first purchase of note of any kind in the field of contemporary photographic art. This was to be followed in quick succession by three further works. Parallel to this, private collectors in particular showed interest in Jeff Wall’s work and accompanied its development, collecting in most cases over several decades. This exhibition, created in close cooperation with the artist, unites works in public and private collections in Munich for the first time. Largely dating from the 1980s and 1990s this selection of 20 works provides a precise overview of the most important aspects in Jeff Wall’s oeuvre and includes now famous, frequently exhibited works, as well as less wellknown ones that are seldom shown.

The spectrum of exhibited works covers all subjects that are important within Jeff Wall’s work as a whole – landscape and nature, the urban space, portraits, still lifes and scenes from everyday life. For the exhibition Jeff Wall has arranged the works in four interconnecting rooms in the gallery. The first and largest exhibition space focuses on the subjects landscape and nature that the artist has continued to explore since the 1960s. In addition to multifaceted panoramas given over to the social landscape such as An Eviction, created in 1988 in Vancouver, and A Villager from Aricaköyü Arriving in Mahmutbey-Istanbul of 1997, there are also sketch-like nature studies such as A sapling held by a post and Clipped Branches, that refer to the threat to nature by mankind. As in the case of Park Drive these are socalled documentary photographs – images in which Wall did without any stage-setting interventions. The situation in his cinematographic works in which every detail and every actor is placed in the composition with extreme accuracy is different, as in the five-metre wide lightbox Restoration in the Sammlung Goetz that depicts the Bourbaki Panorama in Lucerne.

In the three rooms to follow Jeff Wall has combined the most varied of subjects to create a subtly balanced dialogue between the works. The guiding principle here is neither the motif nor the style but formal aspects such as composition and lighting or details like gestures and expressions. Diverse pictures such as the seemingly grotesque Jell-O and the extremely fragmented Diagonal Composition no.2 are brought together in this juxtaposition while the motif of the tableau can be discovered contextually and formally both in such set pictures with figures as Doorpusher as in the strictly documentary still life Some Beans.

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