Photographs by Jeff Wall. By Thierry de Duve, Ariella Pelenc, Boris Groys, Jean-Francois Chevrier and Mark Lewis.
Phaidon, London, 2009. 272 pp., 250 color illustrations, 9¾x11¼".
Jeff Wall (b.1946) adopts the nineteenth-century poet Baudelaire's famous description of one of his contemporaries as 'a painter of modern life' to describe his own very different work: huge transparencies mounted on to light boxes that diffuse a brilliant glow of white light evenly through his photographs of contemporary urban scenes and 'constructed' social situations. Wall is foremost among the pioneering artists who since the late 1960s have brought photography to the forefront of contemporary art. His constructed images employ the latest sophisticated technology in the creation of compelling tableaux, which are evocative of subjects ranging from Hollywood cinema to nineteenth-century history painting. When exhibited in their glowing light boxes they evoke both the seduction of the cinema screen and the physical presence of minimalist sculptures such as Dan Flavin's fluorescent light installations or Donald Judd's metal and Perspex wall reliefs. All of these elements - traditional figurative painting, cinema, Minimalism, Conceptual art, documentary photography - are consciously evoked and explored in Wall's work.Associated closely since the late 1960s with Conceptual artists such as Dan Graham, with whom he collaborated on The Children's Pavilion (1988-93), Wall has engaged at a sophisticated level with theories of representation and its social dimensions both as an artist and as a theoretical writer on contemporary art and culture. The survey by Thierry de Duve, author of 'Pictorial Nominalism' and 'The Definitively Unfinished Marcel Duchamp', proposes an alternative history of modernism. Critic and curator Arielle Pelenc talks with the artist on themes ranging from storytelling to cinematography. Boris Groys, author of 'Contemporary Art from Moscow', focuses on the meaning of light in Wall's work. The update section by French art critic and historian of photograpy Jean-Francois Chevrier surveys Wall's work from 1995 to the present. The artist has chosen texts by Blasie Pascal and Franz Kafka for the 'Artist's Choice', and the 'Artist's Writings' celebrate Wall as an art historian and theorist by including key essays and important interviews.