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Monday, March 16, 2009

Cézanne and Beyond: Jeff Wall

Paul Cézanne - The Card Players

Jeff Wall - Card Players

What could Jeff Wall, a Canadian who makes huge backlit color photos of staged scenes, have in common with a long-dead French master who mostly painted small still lifes, portraits and landscapes, most often from life? A great deal, at least when Wall's at his best. It's not when Wall looks most like Cézanne that he comes closest to him. Wall's recent photo of old women playing cards, on view in Philadelphia, is such an obvious reworking of Cézanne's famous Card Players that it risks becoming an art-historical one-liner, without the depth of Cézanne's original or of Wall's more important works. Wall is most like Cézanne -- more like him than most other living artists -- when he achieves Cézanne's uncanny blend of the clear-cut and the cryptic, of old-fashioned realism and newfangled conceptualism. At first glance, many of Wall's photos can have a banal, what-you-see-is-what-you-get effect: He presents photos of a path leading to a warehouse, or a storm drain with two girls playing at its mouth, as though that's all there is to see in them. Yet in every case, there's something so clearly willed about his choice of scene, and so calculated in his depiction of it, that you're launched into a search for hidden depths. Wall doesn't make pictures that look like Cézanne's. He makes pictures that work like Cézanne's (Blake Gopnik in W.Post).

See also the Press Room of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.





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