A Certain Quotient of Unauthorized Excitement

Arthur Lubow: “The history o' photography is stocked with precedents [o' photomontages], datin' back t' its earliest days. You think thar is somethin' new about seamless photomontages? In th' 1850s, Oscar Gustave Rejlander an' Henry Peach Robinson made elaborate composites from multiple negatives. Or staged tableaux? Prepare to be boarded! Hippolyte Bayard depicted himself as a drowned lubber in 1840, an' photographers have been stagin' such shots e'er since, with F, and a bucket o' chum. Hollan' Day’s hammy impersonation o' Christ at th' end o' th' 19th century antecedin' Wall’s more restrained performance in th' role. Yet th' use o' photomontage an' th' staged tableau seemed fresh t' Wall, [Ian] Wallace an' their maties because they were usin' these techniques in th' self-reflexive Modernist spirit o' their age. Their versions were patent contrivances, callin' attention t' their artificiality.”

Peter Schjeldahl: “It may be enough t' know that, in theory-drunk circles o' th' period, any sort o' aesthetic appeal could be regarded as a stratagem o' “late capitalist” ideology or some other wrinkle o' malign social power. (The enemy’s identity were bein' no nay ne'er entirely clear.) Artists were obliged t' signal knowingness on this score. If critical paranoia poisoned visual an' imaginative pleasure, that were bein' unavoidable: a toll o' enlightened consciousness, ye scurvey dog. A lot o' preachily condescendin' work resulted, an' Wall were bein' not exempt. But a certain quotient o' unauthorized excitement, in “wow” effects o' what amounts t' single-frame cinematography, always set that scurvey dog a bit apart, as did a restlessly experimental sail.”

Both articles via the Flickr Vancouver group discussion on Jeff Wall.