Jeff Wall’s photographs are often densely referential, drawing upon sources as disparate as art history and outdoor advertising.
Two of his best known works, The Destroyed Room (1978) and A sudden gust of wind (after Hokusai) (1993), both on display at the MCA for Jeff Wall Photographs, appropriate significant works from art history.
Based on Hokusai’s 1830-1833 colour wood block print Ejiri in Suruga Province (a sudden gust of wind), Wall’s work A sudden gust of wind (after Hokusai) (1993) is an exemplar of the photo-montage techniques that he has often used in his practice.
Combining more than 100 individual photographs to create the work, Wall attempted to recreate the Hokusai work faithfully, while recontextualising it into a contemporary moment.
The work is described by Wall as a cinematographic photograph, where the careful composition of the scene, as well as the scale and the use of a light box, draws a deliberate comparison to 18th and 19th century painting as well as cinema and advertising.
A sudden gust of wind (after Hokusai) 1993
transparency in light box, unique state
Purchased with the assistance from the Patrons of New Art through the Tate Gallery Foundation and from the National Art Collections Fund, 1995
image © the artist
Ejiri in Suruga Province (a sudden gust of wind) 1830-1833
The British Museum, London
Sourced from Burnett, C., Jeff Wall, Tate Publishing, 2005, p.49.
image © The British Museum, London
The first light box transparency that Jeff Wall made, The Destroyed Room (1978) is a ‘cinematographic’ photograph, carefully constructed in the studio.
A reference to Eugène Delacroix’s 1827 painting, Death of Sardanapalus, Wall’s work uses its large scale, strong light and oblique composition to locate itself in an uneasy place between historical painting and advertising.
Delacroix’s work, itself inspired by Byron’s play, shows the death of the Assyrian king Sardanapalus, who ordered the killing of his servants, the destruction of his palace and his own death after hearing of the defeat of his armies in battle.
The Destroyed Room uses Delacroix’s brutal spectacle as the platform for his own critique of the systems of meaning that control how we understand both commercial and artistic images.
The Destroyed Room 1978
transparency in light box, AP
Collection of the artist
image © the artist
Death of Sardanapalus 1827
oil on canvas
Musée de Louvre
Image acquired under public domain creative commons.
Tristan works in the zone where digital interaction touches curatorial, art and institutional practices, creating new and innovative content across the MCA’s digital platforms.
He has a Bachelor of Visual Arts (Hons 1) from Sydney College of the Arts, and studied at the Universität der Künste Berlin. Having come to the MCA from Artspace Visual Arts Centre, Sydney, Tristan is also a practicing artist who has exhibited in both Sydney and Berlin.