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The Wall


courtesy of Jeff Wall

It’s a well-known truth that people always want to be what they are not. This seems especially true when it comes to hair color (if only I could pull off red!) and occupation (oh, to be an astronaut).  I’ve noticed recently that every artist I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with insists their art is closer to another genre than what it seems, in a “yes, I make wood carvings, but I consider them to be paintings” kind of way.

Artist and “picture maker” Jeff Wall is no exception to this rule—insisting that his art is closer to cinematography than photography. He builds a convincing case: His trademark is setting up his shots in the manner of a feature film shoot (positioning actors for “candid” scenes like his new work In Front of a Nightclub), and also on occasion combining negatives digitally to create narratives. That all makes sense, but I have to say, after seeing his new show at SFMOMA I was entirely sold on his claim—the truly cinematic experience of his work is found in beholding it in-person.

Presented on oversized lightboxes, Wall’s illuminated images literally jump off the wall—seriously, when I turned the corner into the first room, they nearly knocked me over. My personal favorite is A Sudden Gust of Wind (after Hokusai), on loan from London’s Tate. There’s something very “running my thesis to the professor on the day it’s due and the crisp fall air has other plans for me and isn’t life amazing?” about it. And while that sense of magic is often generated in the darkness of a movie theater, I think it’s the juxtaposition of the expansive white walls against the meticulously constructed scenes—and the close encounter the museum setting affords—that, in the end, left me feeling totally starstruck.

On view through January 27, 2008 . Sfmoma.org