Sunday, February 25, 2007

From Bauhaus to Philip's House


Sure, it's a little obvious, but I really like the placement of this painting in the MoMA (seen above). And it was a gift of Philip Johnson, one of the designers of one of the iterations of the museum, which seems all the more appropriate.

Earlier Saturday, I caught the members preview of the new Jeff Wall exhibit on the sixth floor, open to the public beginning today. Definitely the best I've seen there since the Munch last year. Forty large-scale photographic works arranged chronologically: I felt like I could spend a good moment with each one before moving on, something I don't always get in traveling exhibits that inundate you with stuff to look at. I inevitably feel like I've walked through and missed something. Yes, there can be always more to see, but at least in this kind of hanging I feel I've given each work a chance.

The artist's name probably should've stuck in my head better, because there were at least five or six works in this show that I've seen before: at MoMA, at the Philly museum, at the Met, at the Tate in London. I guess I didn't realize Wall was so closely associated with the large-scale photo transparencies in illuminated metal box frames, but thought they were different artists presenting work in the same medium.

What I like about his work is how much it draws upon and comments upon the sweep of art history. Certain pieces explicitly evoke their forebears in their titles: A Sudden Gust of Wind (After Hokusai), for instance. But even when Wall isn't being that clear, there were resonances between his pieces and the composition and imagery of famous works that preceded him. Wall's piece showing one slightly bent lip on an outdoor wall of otherwise orderly white vinyl home siding reminded me of Lucio Fontana's work. And another photo in the exhibit, called Tattoos and Shadows, made me think of Manet's Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe, transported to a suburban backyard. There are also works whose titles specifically reference literature, such as a stunning work evoked by Ellison's The Invisible Man in which we see a man sitting in a windowless room lit by hundreds of old bare light bulbs hanging from the ceiling. Most if not all of these works are staged, even if they appear to be taken from uncoached life, but there's something more real and less creepy than Gregory Crewdson's work, which I also enjoy. Crewdson so often pulls in fantastical elements that remind you that it was all staged. And while there is that element here too, it's less so. In both artists' work, I love the sense that you're watching the whole of a movie in one perfectly focused frame.

UPDATE: Haven't read it yet but Jeff Wall is the topic of the cover story on the NYTM today.

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