Jeff Wall is renowned for large-format photographs with subject matter that ranges from mundane corners of the urban environment, to elaborate tableaux that take on the scale and complexity of 19th-century history paintings.
Wall struck on the idea of producing large, backlit photographs after seeing an illuminated advertisement from a bus window. Having recently been to the Prado, Madrid, the artist combined his knowledge of the Western pictorial tradition – he had studied art history at London’s Courtauld Institute – with his interest in contemporary media, to create one of most influential visions in contemporary art. Wall calls his photographs ‘prose poems’, after the writings of Charles Baudelaire, a description that emphasises how each picture should be experienced rather than understood as an illustration of a specific narrative. His pictures may depict an instant in a scenario, but the before and after that moment are left unknown, allowing them to remain open to multiple interpretations. The prose poem format allows any truth claims for the photograph – the facts we expect from journalistic photography – to remain suspended, and Wall believes that in that state of suspension the viewer experiences pleasure.
In addition to the light-boxes, Wall has made, since 1996, black-and-white prints and large-scale colour inkjet photographs.
Jeff Wall was born in 1946 in Vancouver where he lives and works. He has exhibited widely, including solo exhibitions at Glenstone, Maryland (2021); Economou Collection, Athens (2019); Kunsthalle Mannheim, Germany, touring to Mudam Luxembourg (2018); Pérez Art Museum, Miami (2015); Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, touring to Kunsthaus Bregenz, Austria and Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebaek, Denmark (2014–15); Art Gallery of Western Australia, touring to National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne and Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney (2012–13); Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich, Germany (2013); Centro Galego de Arte Contemporanea, Santiago de Compostela, Spain (2011); Museo Tamayo, Mexico City (2008); The Museum of Modern Art, New York touring to The Art Institute of Chicago and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (2007); and Tate Modern, London touring to Schaulager, Basel, Switzerland (2005). Group exhibitions include 5th Shanghai Biennale (2004); Documenta 11, Kassel, Germany (2002); 12th Biennale of Sydney (2000); 24th Bienal de São Paulo (1998); and Documenta 10, Kassel, Germany (1997).