Transcript of Jeff Wall's extraordinary lecture on Marcel Duchamp
's great legacy Étant donnés
, presented at the First Annual Anne d'Harnoncourt Memorial Symposium, September 11, 2009, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Jeff Wall (born 1946, Vancouver, Canada, where he lives and works) 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. The artist combines 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 he has recently begun to print large-scale colour inkjet photographs.
See also Stefan Banz: Jeff Wall – With the Eye of the Mind