Jeff Wall Takes Photography Into a Painterly Realm

Rumination and risk-taking, in equal measure, mark Jeff Wall’s spellbinding new exhibition at Gagosian Gallery in Chelsea.

Since the 1970s, the restless “conceptual photographer” has made single, large-scale prints using elaborate processes and layered references from other mediums like painting, film and theater. The final image was always recognizably a photograph, even if it seemed to hold the documentary tradition at arm’s length. That’s not always true in his latest works, which slip the bounds of the single frame and, sometimes, even the photograph’s illusionistic space.

In its mood, however, this show, Mr. Wall’s first at the gallery since ending a 25-year run with the rival dealer Marian Goodman, feels decidedly introspective. Figures alone in contemplative trances, or alienated from their partners in scenes of evident tension, define most of the works. The encyclopedic visual literacy that has long characterized Mr. Wall’s pictures (with their compositional echoes of old master paintings) has been pared back, allowing more psychological complexity to emerge.

Just as new is an emphasis on narrative and sequence, as opposed to the single incident (or, more accurately, the staged illusion of the kind of incident a lucky street photographer might capture). Among the works are two diptychs and an enveloping, cinematic triptych.

Mr. Wall also delivers moments of uninhibited sentimentality, beauty and transcendence, albeit in unexpected settings like a CrossFit gym. In his previous works, these encounters have usually been laced with social critique (as in his images of homeless people and day laborers) and/or leavened with physical comedy (a spurt of milk, a wind-tossed sheaf of papers).

The sweeping triptych “I giardini/The Gardens” (2017), which takes up an entire wall of the capacious single-room installation, exemplifies all of these shifts. Set in the lush gardens of the Villa Silvio Pellico near Turin, Italy, it’s a kind of three-act play on the theme of expulsion from paradise in which a man and woman in late middle age inhabit multiple roles (or just multiply themselves, in a confounding doppelgänger effect that owes something to digital editing). In the final image they stand knee-deep in a neatly pruned hedge labyrinth, reading from a printed script or manifesto.

Another eerie doubling occurs in the diptych “Pair of interiors” (2018), which shows a man and woman having some kind of communication breakdown in a drab beige setting that might be a hotel room or a couples’ therapist’s office. This time, however, Mr. Wall uses two different couples who resemble each other just enough to imply continuity between the two images.

As it happens, two other examples of Mr. Wall’s previous style (both landscapes, from 2007 and 2011), are also on view. They flank the mural-size “Recovery” (2017-18), and have clearly been folded into the show to emphasize this newer work’s startling departure. “Recovery” is a photograph, yes, but only a tiny fraction of the image is recognizable as such: the figure of a young man, seated within and merging into a flattened Fauvist landscape à la Matisse’s “Joy of Life.”

Sahred From Source link Arts

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