press release

Jeff Wall: Tableaux, Pictures, Photographs, 1996–2013 presents recent work in color and black and white, and features the new, previously unseen diptych Summer Afternoons (2013). It is the first major photography exhibition to be presented at the Stedelijk following its reopening in 2012.

Since the 1980s, Wall has produced critically acclaimed work in the form of color transparencies backlit by fluorescent light strips and presented in lightboxes. He was one of the first artists to make photographs on a large scale. The standard lightbox was created for the primary purpose of outdoor advertising. In Wall’s work, this medium became a platform for his figurative tableaux, street scenes and interiors, landscapes and cityscapes. Wall explores themes such as the relationships between men and women and the boundary between metropolis and nature. He offers social commentary on violence and cultural miscommunication, and conjures seductive nightmarish fantasies and personal memories. These scenes provide the basis for photographic reconstructions of Wall’s experience. They derive their inherent suspense from a combination of extreme realism and sometimes elaborate artifice.

The exhibition hinges on the year 1996, which marked a turning point in Wall’s production: It was the first year that he produced black-and-white prints on paper. More immediately than the lightboxes, the black-and-white photographs suggest new relations of his work to documentary themes and aesthetics. But Wall also orchestrates the content of these images, employing tools borrowed from filmmaking. Wall sees photographs as autonomous, independent images and, strictly speaking, all his works are created using photographic means. At the same time, he analyzes and expands the visual language of photography by adding elements from painting, cinema, theater. In choosing his themes, Wall deconstructs common ideas and assumptions, including those relating to his own work. He has, for instance, also shot many “unstaged” images.

Curator Hripsimé Visser said: “Jeff Wall is first and foremost an ‘artist’s artist,’ he is well- known and much loved by other artists, as well as critics. With this exhibition, the Stedelijk hopes to create broader public awareness of Jeff Wall as one of the artists who uniquely and enduringly defined photography as a fine art medium. Wall’s work is classic, yet entirely contemporary at the same time. His themes are both commonplace and tension-filled. What at first seems straightforward and intelligible is also complex and enigmatic. Wall carefully selects his mode of display to be produced with an incredible eye for detail. The large scale of the images is a natural, integral feature of the work.”