Nächst St. Stephan

James Welling

19 Sep - 31 Oct 2008

© James Welling
Exhibition view

19 SEPT – 31 OCT 2008

Opening: Thursday, 18 SEPT 2008, 7 p.m.

Ruth Horak, Kunsthistorikerin
7.30 p.m.

“Increasingly, I’m finding less and less of a difference between representational and so-called abstract pictures. There are always representational and abstract elements in any photograph.” James Welling, 2007

Over the course of more than three decades, James Welling has created an oeuvre that upon first glance appears to encompass a range of extremely heterogeneous work series. When he was going to CalArts, the California Institute of the Arts, which is famous for film and video, there was no department of photography where one could learn the actual craft of the trade, his experimental approach to the medium gave him the greatest possible freedom, beyond timebound teachings and doctrines. From the start, Welling was interested in the “making of an object,” photography in the often quoted sense of “writing with light.”

James Welling’s photographs are based on complex production processes with a number of historical references. His representational, quasi documentary work series in the tradition of the classic art photograph of a Paul Strand emerge parallel to abstract works, his photograms, which make reference to the work of such avant-garde icons as Moholy-Nagy, Christian Schad, or Man Ray. “In retrospect, I see that there’s no escape from the history of photography.” (JW, 2003)

James Welling uses ordinary analogue or digital photographic processes, with or without a camera, often also in combinations thereof and completely removed from all artistic tenets. He is interested in modulations of light and shadow as well as the factor of time. A “slowing down” of seeing, a disturbance of the fast-paced consumption of images occurs. In reference to the American lyricist Wallace Stevens, who is opposed to the quick reading and comprehension of poems, James Welling states: “I do want to slow down that kind of recognition. I wanted to do something that would ‘un-peel’ the image, because I’ve never thought of a photograph as just a straightforward or simple record of what you see.” (JW, 2007) In this way, calling into question the documentary character of photography, James Welling instead gives physical form to that which he himself sees by composing it and putting it on paper.

We are showing works from the series “Torsos,” 2005–2008, in which the artist places fabric on chromogenic paper, arranging it to follow body contours, and then exposing it. The result is the recording of the materiality of the fabric, its opacity, its translucency. Also on display will be new works from a series entitled “Glass House”; these are architectural photographs of Philip Johnson’s home in New Canaan, Connecticut, which was built from 1947–1949 in the European modernist tradition of a Mies van der Rohe and can now be visited as a museum. Using color filters to take the pictures, he alters and manipulates the colors of the light-flooded building in unfamiliar ways. The series “Quadrilaterals,” 2007, are Welling’s first computer-generated images. Using Maya graphics software, he projects a three-dimensional figure, producing fine shades of gray within the form in the two-dimensional result. In addition, we are also presenting works from the artist’s newly begun series “Untitled,” photograms on chromogenic paper created in the darkroom.

James Welling was born in Hartford, CT, in 1951, lives and works in Los Angeles, CA. Since 1995, professorship and head of the Department of Photography at the University of California, Los Angeles. Exhibitions (selection): 2008 David Zwirner Gallery, New York, NY; Whitney Biennial, Whitney Museum, New York, NY; 2006 Hudson River Museum, Yonkers, NY; Centre Pompidou, Paris; 2003 The Last Picture Show: Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN; Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, CA; Museo de Arte Contemporánea de Vigo, Fotomuseum Winterthur; 2002 Art Gallery of York University, Toronto; Palais de Beaux-Arts, Brussels; 2000 Retrospective: Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, OH; Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, MD; The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, CA; 1999 Sprengel Museum, Hanover; 1998 Kunstmuseum Luzern; 1994 Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg; 1992 Documenta IX, Kassel. Works in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, among others.

Tags: Man Ray, Christian Schad, James Welling