The Canadian artist has adopted the staging of daily situation in intense large format images. His work is exhibited at Mudam in Luxembourg some pieces are shown for the first time in Europe.
A photographer is above all an observer of the world who lets himself be carried by his eyes and who grabs here and there some pieces of the real, some scrawny fragments of life. It does not matter whether he has his camera or not: he still saves an image and it will reappear later. This is the way Jeff Wall works. The artist does not walk with his camera, as many street photographers would do. But, like them, he captures moments that moves him and then reproduces them in clichés cleverly worked on: with impeccable staging, impressive attention to detail. So from his masterpiece “Invisible Man”. From the prologue of the eponymous novel by Ralph Ellison, an African-American writer of the 1950s, the scene depicts a man – the narrator in the novel – who found a shelter underground and lives there, writing a book. Above him, a great many electrical bulbs. 1369 very exactly. “I did not count them, but I’m sure there are 1369 in the photograph “says Christophe Gallois, one of the curators of the exhibition and who confirms this impression: “Jeff Wall has a total attention to every detail.” In fact, in this photograph, not only crowded by a forest of bulbs, there is an incalculable number of objects chosen with patience and abnegation, in an admirable and colossal aesthetic search.
Because what is impressive about Jeff Wall is to imagine the creative process where his photographs – often produced in the studio – are born from real situations crossed by the artist and that he transforms into implacable stagings where each fragment is studied. Take by example, his photograph entitled “In front of a nightclub” produced in 2006. Jeff Wall has reconstructed everything in the studio, without forgetting to include butts crushed on the sidewalk, the miserable lights at the entrance of this club. In the midst of young people people who came to dance – extras spotted by the artist and who play their own roles – a lonely and different man walks this way. This is a rose seller who tries desperatly to sell his goods. “This figure is reminiscent of the characters described by Baudelaire, “explains Christophe Gallois,” like little old women or prostitutes “. Like Walker Evans in his day, Jeff Wall is fascinated by the French poet who advocated a new aesthetic approach, the painting of modern life.
Jeff Wall is known for his connection to painting. The Mudam presents in particular his first very famous masterpiece designed in 1979: “Picture for Women” reinventing Manet’s painting: “A bar at Les Folies Bergère”. Further on is the ” Déjeuner sur l’herbe” of the same painter who inspires Jeff Wall and who offers in “The Storyteller” a group of individuals at the edge of a small wood while ten meters from them is a bridge to a highway ramp from which springs huge black cables and the sound of cars and trucks that we imagine … For Wall, there is always an extremely meticulous composition that goes hand-in-hand with the painting, which is of the same reflexive part, where the extras begin to think and who come out a state of intense and deep meditation.
This is particularly the case of these three men gathered at the foot of a lamppost in the middle of the night and that Jeff Wall baptized, perhaps with irony, “Monologue”. Two of the three men are sitting on a chair, the third is standing and uses his empty chair as a small table for a glass of whiskey. The middle man, sitting, seems to be talking, while the other two individuals seem to listen to him with a distracted ear, also immersed in a deep reflection. There is too much to say when writing about Jeff Wall because each photograph is an incredible digest of social, psychological and metaphorical problems … Thus of these three men who raise a flood of questions: what are they waiting for? Why are they out at night? Who is this man in the middle of the others? And all this, in an amazing and beautiful lighting that makes one think of a theater scene … Sometimes it’s also what Jeff Wall saw as a simple walker and he found interesting to reproduce. As such, the photography “A man with a rifle” is striking. A man, bent over, makes the gesture of holding a rifle and points it towards a parking meter. If we look closely, there is also, on the other side of the street, a person in his shooting range who, too, is lowered to something on the ground. We could almost believe that this person has been touched by the imaginary bullet of this man’s imaginary rifle. And if he is aiming for the parking meter, there is much to say about the social dimension of such a photograph: a madman left to his fate? A penniless guy venting his anger? A father who plays with his children who are out of the frame? What is to be said ? Here’s all the power of Jeff Wall’s images: helping stir a myriad of questions and answering none. Like this man lying in the middle of his kitchen, on the floor, his face against the door of the fridge that Jeff Wall calls soberly “Insomnia”.
This strangeness is present in his picture entitled “The flooded grave” where, in the foreground, a grave is open. Inside: a seabed similar to those of the Vancouver area – from which Jeff Wall comes – starfish and sponges in granular water. Picture taken from a short hallucination that the artist had and that he made sure to make real in composing this situation of an open tomb, in front of a cemetery of the region. Again, issues are innumerable: death, the experience of traumatic memory, the background as a call from the sea and as a vector of suicide … We think of Hamlet seeing the grave digger … At the death of Ophelia, drowned in the dark waters of Denmark … A little further in the exhibition, another photograph grabs the eye. A search is led by police in someone’s house. Two agents are searching through a stack of papers. On the left, a staircase goes down and above is hanging the drawing of a child. Disturbing detail: has the child grown up and became a criminal? Is this the work of the suspect’s child? And it is also, a powerful metaphor, as if after childhood awaited us the judgment and inspection; the search of our dreams, perhaps?
Jeff Wall – Appearance
Until January 6, 2019
Musée d’Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean
3, Park Dräi Eechelen