Remaking history

Jeff Wall, A Sudden Gust of Wind (After Hokusai), 1993

Although referencing other artworks is perhaps most closely associated with the post-modern practices of the 1970s – think Sherrie Levine and Richard Prince in particular – it’s  a practice widely used in contemporary art. Jeff Wall’s large-scale photographic tableaux, many made in the 1980s and ’90s, could perhaps be seen as a kind of bridge between work that uses appropriation as a way to explore ideas about authorship – a key concern in post-modernism – and work that draws on art history and reworks it, perhaps in an attempt to understand the present by looking at the past. These works – shown as large light-boxes, a form that references advertising but also feels related as closely to cinema as to still photography without actually taking on the expected form of any of these – are both visually stunning and fascinating to look at; the detail is extraordinary and the scale – A Sudden Gust of Wind is roughly 2.5m by 4x – makes it possible to examine even the tiniest details. Though Wall continues to make engaging work, in my view his more recent work – which was one of the first things I wrote about here – isn’t as interesting as the earlier tableaux.

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It’s who you know

Peter Davies, The Hot One Hundred, 1997

You can learn a lot from looking at art.

Reading a Peter Davies painting is a bit like looking at someone else’s bookshelves or CD collection: a sneaky insight into their taste or knowledge. The Hot One Hundred tells me what art Davies rates; it feels like quite a random hierarchy but every time I look at the painting it reminds me about an artist or a piece of work I’ve forgotten about and Davies’s  descriptions of the work always makes me smile. Emma Kay’s The Story of Art – a list of every artist and art movement Kay can remember, made in 2003 for Tate Modern’s Contemporary Interventions series – has something of the same feel though it’s not as nice to look at.

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