Canadian artist Jeff Wall is renowned for his large-format photographs that feature everything from the mundane corners of urban life to elaborate tableaux that take on the scale and complexity of nineteenth-century history paintings.
But in his latest works, on show at White Cube Mason’s Yard later this month, we see Wall strike out in a completely new direction. In Recovery (2017-18), depicting a seaside park on a bright summer afternoon, it appears to be a photograph of a painting done in a flat decorative style, featuring bright colour and reduced detail. The figure of a seated young man in the foreground, partly photographic and partly painted, gazes out of the image, up and away.
While this piece appears to momentarily halt time, time itself becomes a tool for the triptych I giardini/The Gardens (2017) which, for the first time in Wall's oeuvre, presents a narrative that develops chronologically. The three images—individually titled Appunto/Complaint, Disappunto/Denial, and Diffida/Expulsion—trace the relations between either two or four characters through three depicted moments. Figures appear as doubles in different modes as the drama plays out across the three distinct garden spaces.
Parent Child (2018), meanwhile, depicts a sunny summer day on a pavement in a suburban shopping centre. A man gazes down at a little girl who has decided, for reasons of her own, to lie down on the—presumably warm, clean, and inviting—pavement. Neither she nor her guardian shows signs of frustration or impatience. The image has the relation to street photography that Wall has developed over the past decades, a contemplation of its effects by means of pictorial construction or reconstruction, a mode he calls "near documentary".
In Mother of Pearl (2016), a room is filled with antique furniture and tasteful keepsakes. The child pictured seems fascinated by the iridescence of a set of old game counters fashioned from the material that gives the picture its title, transported by her imagination as perhaps only children can be.
Weightlifter (2015) is Wall’s most recent black and white picture. The lifting of heavy objects recalls the most archaic forms of labour and the permanent subjection of life to the force of gravity. The sport of weightlifting enacts that archaism, detached from any practical purpose and absorbed in private ambition.
A number of older landscape pictures by Wall are also brought together in the upcoming exhibition, two of which, Property Line (2015) and Daybreak (on an olive farm/Negev Desert/Israel) (2011), have never been shown in London before.
Jeff Wall opens on 28 June at White Cube's Mason's Yard and runs until 7 September.