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Jeff Wall

Jeff Wall is best known for his large photographic transparencies back-lit in fluorescent light boxes. Responding to an era dominated by abstract art, he became interested in an alternative conceptual expression. He would reintroduce narrative and subject matter into the art world.

Wall was studying art history to enrich his art practice and in 1970 left Vancouver to pursue a Ph.D. in art history at the Courtauld Institute in London. His academic background is apparent in works that make obvious art historical allusions, but Wall says he is more concerned with staging tableaus of modern life for his camera than alluding to well-known paintings. Wall acknowledges the influence of the nineteenth-century French author Baudelaire, who called for a painting of modern life that would show the streets of Paris rather than the grand themes of history. In this spirit, Wall decided to appropriate back-lit advertisements, which he first saw in bus shelters, as an artistic medium for representing contemporary life.

Wall's photographs are the result of detailed planning and days, sometimes months, of rehearsals and shooting. He plays with the notion that implicit in every photograph is the sense of what happened before the moment depicted and what may happen after. He contends that artwork that has only one obvious meaning is either dull or propagandistic, and that good art must be beautiful to hold a viewer's attention.

The Destroyed Room (1978) was Wall's first publicly exhibited large, back-lit transparency in a fluorescent light box. The work shows a set, similar to one that would be built for movies or theatre, that has been wrecked for no obvious reason other than for the photograph itself. Holes in the wall, overturned furniture, and objects strewn about the floor look like a scene of random destruction. However, the undisturbed porcelain figurine on top of the ransacked dresser hints at the careful placement of every element within the photograph. Wall leaves us to imagine the events leading up to the scene. In The Vampires' Picnic (1991), another large, back-lit transparency in a fluorescent light box, Wall created an allegory about the city encroaching on the countryside. Vampires have gathered where nature is being disturbed and where it will die. For vampires, a picnic, like all activities must take place at night. Wall sees a comical side to this work in bringing together the unlikely combination of vampires and picnicking.

Jeff Wall's photographs are collected and exhibited internationally. He lives in Vancouver, devoting his time to artmaking and writing. - Biography from the National Gallery of Canada

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