Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Jeff Wall: Photographs - The Art Gallery of W.A.

The Art Gallery of Western Australia Website:

There are lots of positive things to say about Australia - not least of which is that they have a range of excellent museums and art galleries in their major cities. For the second week of my hols I was in Perth, and as luck would have it the Art Gallery of Western Australia was showing Photographs by Jeff Wall, a selection of 26 of his major works.This post is an initial reaction only  as I've not yet had a chance to really study the images in the catalog - other than to note that its production values seem extremely high.

For those not familiar with his originals (which included myself before the visit) Jeff Wall produces very large transparencies which he displays in light boxes. This gives them enormous visual impact. In a related vein many also exhibit a very different viewing experience close up compared with when viewed from further back. Subsequent reading indicates that this is deliberate - Wall uses a large format camera to allow for just such an effect. In some cases it would be possible to view areas of the image as separate photos - which reflects the manner in which at least some were made - A Sudden Gust of Wind (After Hokusai) - for example.

I was surprised at the lack of landscape images as Liz Well's had made specific mention on Wall in Land Matters. The only example was a piece called 'Coastal Motif' which seemed difficult to relate to the other images in the show. And there is my only real criticism - there was a bit of a shortage on interpretive material which made it difficult to work out what was happening. Sure I can, and did, use my own brain, and I've subsequently discovered a quote from Wall as follows:

"I'm aware that the subjects I choose do have meaning, but over the years I've found that understanding these meanings is less important for me. My burning issue is how to make the next picture good."
But for all that I find the images easier to fit together now I've had a chance to research their background. I still have some more to do in this area - showing in a side room wasan artists talk from when the photos were shown at the Tate - it's over an hour long so I guess a glass of red and a quiet evening are required.

I'll finish this post with my favourite - several shots stick in my memory - not least the previously mentioned  After Hokusai, but I think the first shot I saw - "The Door Pusher" - has the edge, simply because I wasn't visually prepared for the scale and colours of the presentation. The review in that link says:

"The next room turns to panoramic landscapes, and we look for an obscure detail that might give us a clue to a hidden meaning but wind up with the familiar feeling that there is something we are missing."
and this seems to capture my lasting reaction very well. And maybe it's the feeling that I'm missing something that will keep me coming back for more.

Footnote: Am mildly disturbed that the guy in the last review describes the subject of "The Door Pusher" as a deviant. It could have been me many years ago!!

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