Jeff Wall acknowledges the meaningless truth . . . what a relief


There is nothing unique or even special about the phenomenon of artists who write with distinction about art generally and their own practices in particular. History provides numerous examples—Leonardo’s great notebooks, Reynolds’s Discourses, Vasari’s Lives, and Delacroix’s journals and letters among them. The twentieth century, with its enthusiasm for manifestos and credos, proves almost embarrassingly rich in this regard, from Gleizes and Metzinger to Peter Halley. But the publication of Jeff Wall’s Selected Essays and Interviews by the Museum of Modern Art, New York, on the occasion of the artist’s retrospective there, is an especially valuable contribution to this literature, even a singular one. For while the postwar neo-avant-gardes have been extraordinarily prolific in terms of literate and rhetorically persuasive artist-writers—Allan Kaprow, Donald Judd, Robert Morris, Robert Smithson, Marcel Broodthaers, Art & Language, Martha Rosler, Barbara Kruger, and Mike Kelley, to name but a passel—Wall’s art-critical writing (and his concomitant interviews) bear the stamp of his formal art-historical training. He spent several years in the 1970s pursuing a postgraduate degree in the field at London’s Courtauld Institute, and this background left an indelible mark on his art production proper, as well as on its critical reception.

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