Jeff Wall: The Complete Edition

Review by Carol-Ann Ryan

Jeff Wall: The Complete Edition
Phaidon, 2010
Hardcover, 280 pages
$79.95 CDN

Jeff Wall: The Complete Edition is an extensive monograph on this internationally acclaimed Canadian artist. This thoroughly illustrated publication features 185 stunning colour photographs accompanied by essays, interviews and the artist’s own writings. Among the contributors are professor of art history and curator Jean-François Chevrier, professor of art history and writer Thierry de Duve, and artist and writer Mark Lewis, who contributes the most recent piece of writing.

The opportunity to fully study the breadth of any artist’s production is rare. The monograph provides the chance to contemplate Wall’s photographs from his earliest through to his latest, including a suite of recent works published here for the first time. The reproductions are presented in full-page and, sometimes, double-page spreads, which suit a proper (print-version) examination of Wall’s images. Cataloguing every work the artist has made, the photographs are well-placed within the book in relation to the texts referencing them.

The four essays and six interviews by the contributors tackle each stage of Wall’s career. A highlight of the book is Lewis’s essay, Jeff Wall: Photographer, which was commissioned specifically for this edition. In it, Lewis brings his perspective as a filmmaker, which is grounded in the tenets of modernism, to a cinematic analysis of Wall’s work.

Wall’s photographs press the photographic nature of modernity and the modernity of photography into our consciousness and cause us to draw back from making prejudiced judgements about their relative significance, or indeed their status as art. Because of the complexity of their invention and their attentiveness to the history of photography, and because of the ease and the beauty – we might also say, invisibility – with which these qualities are incorporated into the works themselves, in the end Wall’s photographs, to borrow a phrase from Jean-Luc Godard, are just photographs.

So true, but what powerful photographs they are.

Jeff Wall: The Complete Edition offers fans, as well as newcomers to Wall’s work, an opportunity to look, to learn and to appreciate these significant photographs in a new way. It is also a must-have reference for any library of books on contemporary art.

Carol-Ann M. RyanCarol-Ann M. Ryan is a Toronto-based writer, arts educator and collections manager.  She has written for C Magazine, Border Crossings, and Canadian Art Online.  She is an instructor at the Toronto School of Art, and educator at the Art Gallery of Ontario and Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art.