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Jeff Wall review

Art White Cube Mason's Yard , St James’s Until Saturday September 7 2019
4 out of 5 stars
Jeff Wall review
Jeff Wall 'Parent Child' (2018) © Jeff Wall

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Fans of the photographic uncanny are in for a great summer: first Cindy Sherman lands at the NPG, and now Canadian weirdo Jeff Wall has arrived at White Cube. Wall by name, wall by nature, he’s known for his epically scaled, carefully orchestrated set-ups, which have all the complexity of a movie, only they don’t – you know – move. This set of works is more of a pick ’n’ mix, though. Some are classic Wall: a child curls up asleep on the sidewalk as her dad looks on and passers-by affect indifference. A giant diptych of a couple in bedwear having two kinds of communication breakdown is trumped by a gianter triptych, ‘The Gardens’, which has a different couple and their doubles in a strange, hallucinatory landscape of woodland, garden and maze. The effect of these works is to make you question both photography and looking at photography. You can’t not look at them – they’re too big and intrusive – but by looking you become complicit in their (sometimes silly) internal logic. You become part of the joke, or whatever it is.  

But there are other works here that achieve a similarly disconcerting effect by less flashy means. ‘Weightlifter’ (2015) is just that: a big black-and-white photo of a guy hefting a barbell. It has a beautiful, chiaroscuro quality, but its mystery is that there is no mystery: it’s just a guy, any guy, doing a simple action. So why do we have this urge to complicate it? Even better is ‘Daybreak’ (2011), showing Bedouin olive pickers sleeping outdoors in the Israeli desert before (presumably) a day of backbreaking labour. The image is ancient and contemporary, deathly and a small piece of everyday life. In the distance, ghostly in the dawn light, is a huge prison complex. A road snakes from the slumbering workers towards it. Is it their future? Their past? Our future, maybe? Wall invites you to fill in these stories, but you’ll never know if you’re right. 


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