Jeff Wall in Basel

Some highlights from my recent visit to Jeff Wall's exhibition in Basel at the Fondation Beyeler. In my opinion, he remains one of the most extraordinary photographers of the last three decades. I am always impressed by his ability to extract incredible and impossible moments from our ordinary lives.

“Wall has the ability to revitalize and reinterpret classical art in a modern context, using the medium of photography.”

I have long admired Jeff Wall’s work since he emerged on the contemporary photography scene in the 1970s. Coming from a background of classical art studies, he made photography something totally different.
Wall has the ability to revitalize and reinterpret classical art in a modern context, using the medium of photography. He is a very well-read artist and I am always impressed by his ability to communicate with a contemporary language through classical motifs.

In his photographs he manages to extract incredible and seemingly impossible moments from our lives. For instance, ‘A Sudden Gust of Wind (after Hokusai)’ is an incredible image that diverges from our conventional imagery, as it is all taken to the extreme. Wall draws inspiration from Hokusai’s aesthetics and translates it into a very contemporary context, where only the fluttering sheets recall Hokusai’s art.

Below, I share an excerpt from the exhibition catalog in which Wall discusses one of his recent works that I particularly liked.

Actor in two roles (2020) was stimulated by my interest in the way actors are able to transform their appearance from role to role. Many of my subjects or starting points are quite simple. This is not because I want the work to be popular but because I would like it to connect with elemental concerns or interests that I believe I must share with people. The subject of the actor’s mutation echoes the resemblance effect that captivated me in making ‘Pair of Interiors’, but here the actor attempts precisely not to resemble herself and instead to appear to be someone else, someone with possibly almost no recognizable similarity to herself.
Actors can find themselves in an almost dizzying variety of productions, each one requiring different types of performance and appearance. One could be in a children’s musical in the afternoon and an intense realist classic play in the evening of the same day. I decide that the setting had to be live theater in order to avoid having to include any distracting tangles of film or video equipment.”1

During my visit to the Fondation Beyeler, I had the chance to wander around the park and came across some unexpected works of art, such as Fischli/Weiss’s Snowman (1987), a snow sculpture preserved and kept frozen for decades. I found it brilliant.

Check here an old blog post focusing on an all-time favorite ‘A view from an apartment’ (2004-2005).

1. Jeff Wall, Fondation Beyeler & Hatje Cantz, 2024, p.156.

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