Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Guest Blog Post: Jeff Wall by Peter Galassi
My visits to Passages classrooms usually progress along the following lines: Firstly, we start with an introduction, discussing our own artistic interests and backgrounds. About half the students say they aren’t artistic at all or interested in any sort of art making and, even when we expand upon our definition of what art is (culinary arts, martial arts, graffiti, tattooing, etc.), there are still a number of teens who don’t want to admit to any feelings on the subject at all. No problem, it’s understandable: Art is subjective, and emotional, and demands that those who create it lay their feelings on the table for others to possibly reject. It’s scary. After that, we start looking at art and the teens start opening up, even if only slightly. It’s easier to have an opinion on someone else’s work than to talk about ourselves, so the discussion begins to flow. We talk about Frida Kahlo’s thick eyebrows, Picasso’s pregnant looking girlfriend, and how super painfully skinny Andrew Wyeth’s Christina looks from the back. At the very end of all this, I like to pull out my reproduction of Jeff Wall’s After “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison, the Prologue (1999-2000). The image depicts an African-American man, an actor posing as the narrator of Ellison’s book, sitting in his cluttered basement apartment, listening to a record as he cleans a dish. Above him, thousands of light bulbs shine down against his back. What’s he thinking? Why is he there? Why does his room look like it does?
I love the mixture of the mundane and the fantastical in Jeff Wall’s work. If each picture tells a story, then Jeff Wall’s stories are mystery novels. You recognize the world that his subjects inhabit as our own, and yet they feel like nothing you have seen and nowhere you have ever been before. Jeff Wall’s photography book is a great prompt for creative writing projects, discussions, art making and more. I wholeheartedly recommend it to all Passages Academy educators. -- Calder Zwicky
--Calder Zwicky is the Associate Educator, Teen and Community Programs at the Museum of Modern Art. He has been working within Juvenile Detention Centers and running art making workshops with Passages Academy students since 2007.
Galassi, Peter. Jeff Wall. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2007.