Wall, Jeff: A Movie in Every Photograph

Saturday, October 27, 2007 - Sunday, January 27, 2008

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 151 Third Street (between Mission and Howard Streets), San Francisco, 94103, Telephone: 415.357.4000, Mon &Tues 11:00 a.m. - 5:45 p.m.,
Wed CLOSED, Thurs 11:00 a.m. - 8:45 p.m., Fri – Sun 11:00 a.m. - 5:45 p.m.
Click here for images: http://www.sfmoma.org/exhibitions/exhib_detail.asp?id=266

SFMOMA’s Fall/Holiday offering is an embarrassment of riches: Joseph Cornell’s intimate dioramas, Olafur Eliasson’s new age appropriation of the entire 5th floor, Douglas Gordon’s outrageous video art, and newcomer Lucy McKenzie’s hand drawn interiors reminiscent of a 50’s movie set are all worth visiting. It will be interesting to see how the influence of these exhibitions shows up in the work of San Francisco Bay Area artists over the next few years.

But if you can only make time to visit one museum show before the end of the year, the Jeff Wall retrospective at SFMOMA is the one to see. This is highly entertaining photography that will appeal to art aficionados and novices alike.

Wall has only produced 130 or so finished light box transparencies since he devised this format in 1977, and here you can see a full 30% of this work. 40 of his signature staged oversize photographs are on view, beginning with his first foray into this format and concluding with the thrilling denouement of new masterpiece “In Front of a Nightclub,” a promised gift to SFMOMA.

The limited production stems from the fact that he strives for originality in every work; he does not like to repeat himself. The result is a dazzlingly varied array of subject matter but all with the characteristic Wall look: expansive, epic, rich in detail and a satisfying beginning, middle and open-end, just like a great short story.

Wall (born 1946 in Vancouver, B.C.) is a member of an elite club of superstar living photographers (including Andreas Gursky and Thomas Struth) who are pushing the medium forward at a rapid pace. Wall takes photography to the next level by mounting the transparencies in a light box (larger than the movie screens at Opera Plaza in some cases). In fact these works are so wide that if you look closely you can see the seam linking the 50” film. Wall first started using this method of presentation when it was new to the world of commercial advertising and it has since become his signature.

Wall’s greatness stems from the fact that his work is a Napoleon pastry of academic layers and yet is egalitarian at heart. Knowledge of cinematography, great film direction, literature, and art history all provide extra satisfaction to the trained viewer but are not necessary to enjoy his work.

Those that did sit through an art history survey will appreciate that Wall spent a decade of his life teaching that class to undergrads and his work is heavily influenced by the monumental scale and dynamic axes of greats like Carravagio and Delacroix, as well as the intimate social-boundary pushing depictions of the bourgeois by Manet and Renoir.

Knowing his process makes the pictures even more interesting. He carefully plans the scene he will stage and photograph, exactly if he were directing a movie, including holding dress rehearsals. In fact he did collaborate on making films for many years but nothing ever quite came to fruition. Wall has also curated a fall film series at SFMOMA that features a “who’s who” roster of important ‘60’s and ‘70’s directors. Click here for the screening schedule:

This exhibit is unique in that it is co-curated by the Director of SFMOMA himself, Neal Benezra. It is a rare occurrence that someone of Mr. Benezra’s station takes time from his demanding day job of running the museum to do any curating project, let alone a blockbuster traveling show like this.

Don’t miss: “Destroyed Room” (parents, rest easy, you’ve never had it this bad), “Milk,” “Insomnia,” “Tattoos and Shadows,” and “After Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, The Prologue.” If you ever daydreamed during AP Lit about what 1.369 light bulbs hanging from the bedroom ceiling might look like, Wall has improved upon your vision.