'Towards the Reinvigoration of the 'Western Tableau': Some Notes on Jeff Wall and Duchamp'

Newman, Michael. 2007. 'Towards the Reinvigoration of the 'Western Tableau': Some Notes on Jeff Wall and Duchamp'. Oxford Art Journal, 30(1), pp. 81-100. ISSN 0142-6540 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

One of my earliest encounters with Jeff Wall's work was in 1984, at his show at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London. At the time his large, wall-mounted back-lit Cibachrome transparancies seemed to provide a powerful alternative to the much-lauded ‘return to painting’ which, it was argued then, marked a break with the austerities and stringencies of Conceptual art and its supposed rejection of the resources of art's long history. Wall's work struck me as so effective because it combined a reconnection with the history of art – specifically a reinvigoration of what Wall came to call ‘the “Western” type of picture, and it is a monumentalistic type’1 – with a continuation of the reflexivity of Conceptual art, and its engagement with the social and political. During the late 1960s Wall had been making a name for himself as a somewhat precocious Northwest Coast Conceptual artist. In 1970 Lucy Lippard included his work in an important touring exhibition of Conceptul art, entitled ‘955,000’.2 Lippard also included Wall in her influential book, Six Years: The Dematerialization of the Art Object from 1966–1972.3 However, by the time that book was published Wall was in London, where he stopped making art to research for a PhD in art history at the Courtauld Institute. He arrived in 1970 with the idea of approaching the photomontages of John Heartfield through Hegel and Marx, but he soon changed his topic to Marcel Duchamp.

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01 Feb 2016 16:02

Last Modified:

16 Jun 2017 15:42

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Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.



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