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 nineteenth-century history paintings.
Wall seized on the idea of producing large, backlit photographs after seeing an illuminated advertisement from a bus window. He had recently been to the Prado, Madrid, and 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, after Charles Baudelaire, ‘prose poems’, a description that emphasises how each picture should be experienced rather than used to illustrate a pre-determined idea or a specific narrative. His pictures may depict an instant and a scenario, but the before and after that moment are left completely unknown, allowing them to remain open to multiple interpretations. The prose poem format allows any truth claims of the photograph – the facts we expect from journalistic photography – to remain suspended, and Wall believes that in that 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 Kunsthalle Mannheim, Germany, touring to Mudam Luxembourg (2018); Pérez Art Museum, Miami (2015); Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, touring to Kunsthaus Bregnez, 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).