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"The Frozen Moment"
The press on the Jeff Wall show Exposure at the Deutsche Guggenheim



With his elaborately orchestrated tableaus, Jeff Wall has played a key role in establishing photography as a form of contemporary art. For the exhibition "Exposure" at the Deutsche Guggenheim, the Canadian has created four new large-scale black and white photographs that are augmented by a selection of earlier works. The show at the Berlin exhibition hall not only celebrates one of the most important artists of the present day, but also the 10th anniversary of the joint venture between Deutsche Bank and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, one that is unique worldwide.

Gabriela Walde from the Berliner Morgenpost speaks of an "exhibition coup" in reference to the current Jeff Wall show at the Deutsche Guggenheim. She finds that "the small 3,500 square-foot exhibition space" has developed into one of "he city's most influential art institutions" over the past ten years of its existence. Elke Linda Buchholz of the Stuttgarter Zeitung also points out that size isn't everything: "Once again, the Deutsche Guggenheim knows how to focus its limited spatial capacities to produce a particularly concentrated effect." And in the taz, Brigitte Werneburg writes: "a fundamental tenet of 20th-century Modernism proves to be true again at the bank building on Unter den Linden: Less is more." With "no more than nine large-scale works," Exposure provides "lucid insight" into Jeff Wall's work. To her mind, his images tell of living conditions in western industrial societies, "in which people have to sell their labor day after day." To this purpose, however, Wall takes recourse to "aesthetic instead of agitational means." Despite this, Wall's "carefully considered compositions … clearly express empathy with the people portrayed, as well as the anger, pain, but also admiration he feels and translates into a formally complex pictorial language."

Thomas Wulffen of the Tagesspiegel also admires the Canadian art photographer's "precarious likenesses"; he describes their power as resulting from a specific connection between reality and fiction: "Jeff Wall depicts particular living conditions in an entirely concrete way while protecting the dignity of the persons represented (…). This might be due to the works' 'construction'. (…) Apparently, the viewer only arrives at reality through fiction." Anja Lösel sees this very similarly in stern.de: "He's not interested in things being real, but rather that the image conveys truth. Some hold this against him and consider him to be a counterfeiter. But perhaps he's closer to the truth than many documentary photographers." On the other hand, Peter Körte of the FAS sees Wall as a "director" uninterested in "frank social statements," but in compositional issues. "The longer one looks at these photographs, the more their structure and quality of line become apparent."

For Elke Buhr of the Frankfurter Rundschau, the "almost sublime perfection" of "Wall's elaborate image worlds, which always seems like movie films shrunken down into single images" (Ralf Hanselle/ Zitty), "fit ideally in the distinguished rooms of the Deutsche Guggenheim, which are hung cleanly down to the very last detail." Yet the social issues are "always at a certain distance in his complex arrangements – the aesthetic aspect guards against the primitiveness of a documentary's grappling around in the dirt, but it also to a certain extent protects them against the dirt."

The Berliner Zeitung dedicates a two-page portrait to Wall, "the virtuoso of the uncertain" (Peter Geimer/ FAZ). For Ingeborg Ruthe, the quality of his works resides in just this unique mixture of staging and documentation, with which he succeeds in "setting new, universally valid standards in photography." In the images' "dreamlike precision of everyday horror," the "cold pain of alienation seems frozen. They are diagrams of relationships that either aren't, or have been destroyed." Ute Thon of art is also thoroughly convinced by Wall's scenarios, in which he "arrests everyday scenes in a neo-realist style" to create "oppressive stage settings." "His work Cold Storage, Vancouver offers a view of a cathedral-like, abandoned cooling cellar (…) – a mysterious sight situated somewhere between frosty melancholy and sacral vision. The frozen moment that every photograph depicts is the defining image motif here. Good art can be this cold, and this clear."