An extraordinary selection of work by Canadian photographer Jeff Wall (b. Vancouver, 1946), one of todays leading international artists, opens at the Stedelijk Museum
on March 1, 2014. Encompassing 37 works, the exhibition surveys Walls oeuvre since 1996. Jeff Wall: Tableaux Pictures Photographs 19962013 presents recent work in color and black and white, and features two new photographic works, which will be seen for the first time in this exhibition: the diptych Summer Afternoons, and Monologue. It is the first major photography exhibition to be presented at the Stedelijk following its reopening in 2012.
Since the 1980s, Wall has produced critically acclaimed work in the form of color transparencies backlit by fluorescent light strips and presented in lightboxes. He was one of the first artists to make photographs on a large scale.
The standard lightbox was created for the primary purpose of outdoor advertising. In Walls work, this medium became a platform for his figurative tableaux, street scenes and interiors, landscapes and cityscapes. Wall explores themes such as the relationships between men and women and the boundary between metropolis and nature. He offers social commentary on violence and cultural miscommunication, and conjures seductive nightmarish fantasies and personal memories.
These scenes provide the basis for photographic reconstructions of Walls experience. They derive their inherent suspense from a combination of extreme realism and sometimes elaborate artifice. The exhibition hinges on the year 1996, which marked a turning point in Walls production: it was the first year that he produced black-and- white prints on paper. More immediately than the lightboxes, the black-and-white photographs suggest new relations of his work to documentary themes and aesthetics. But Wall also orchestrates the content of these images, employing tools borrowed from filmmaking.
Wall sees photographs as autonomous, independent images and, strictly speaking, all his works are created using photographic means. At the same time, he analyzes and expands the visual language of photography by adding elements from painting, cinema, theater. In choosing his themes, Wall deconstructs common ideas and assumptions, including those relating to his own work. He has, for instance, also shot many unstaged images.
Curator Hripsimé Visser said: Jeff Wall is first and foremost an artists artist, he is well-known and much loved by other artists, as well as critics. With this exhibition, the Stedelijk hopes to create broader public awareness of Jeff Wall as one of the artists who uniquely and enduringly defined photography as a fine art medium. Walls work is classic, yet entirely contemporary at the same time. His themes are both commonplace and tension-filled. What at first seems straightforward and intelligible is also complex and enigmatic. Wall carefully selects his mode of display to be produced with an incredible eye for detail. The large scale of the images is a natural, integral feature of the work.
Jeff Wall himself chose the title of this exhibition. It is a reference to the layers that can be found in his work. He says, Tableau refers to the free-standing, autonomous object we look at from a distance, often when it is hanging on the wall in front of us. Picture relates to that special and isolated image within the entire spectrum of image production available in a culture. And photograph identifies it in the technical sense, and as medium, distinct from other ways of making tableaux or pictures. Wall aims to present each photo as an independent, unique image, intended to be seen hanging on a wall, not as reproductions in a book. As such, Wall arranged this presentation to give each individual artwork the space it needs. The monumental scale of the work encourages viewers to experience the space that is evoked in the images. At the same time, the themes and formal and stylistic qualities of the different images prompt viewers to draw comparisons between them.
The exhibition will fan out across the Stedelijks former Hall of Honor, two adjacent gallery spaces in the historic building, and the Van den Ende Foundation Gallery in the new wing of the museum.
Jeff Wall: Tableaux Pictures Photographs 19962013 was curated by Hripsimé Visser, in close collaboration with the artist and in collaboration with Kunsthaus Bregenz, Austria, and the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebaeck, Denmark. The exhibition will travel to both museums.
Jeff Wall grew up in Vancouver and studied at the University of British Columbia and at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London. Since the late 1970s, he has been considered one of the art worlds most innovative contemporary photographers. His work has been the subject of recent solo exhibitions at the Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich (2013), the Museum of Modern Art, New York (2007), and Tate Modern, London (2005), among others. The Stedelijk Museum first presented Walls work in 1985.