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Features / November 6, 2008

Jeff Wall: Hometown Hero

Jeff Wall The Pine on the Corner 1990 Collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery

With major solo shows at London’s Tate Modern, New York’s MoMA, Berlin’s Guggenheim and Mexico City’s Tamayo Museum over the past two years, it’s clearer than ever that Jeff Wall’s international superstar reputation is well-sealed.

But what about representation in Wall’s hometown? In Vancouver, he’s had nary a major museum show since 1990.

Now, thanks to some recent acquisitions—two in February, two in June and one in September—it seems the Vancouver Art Gallery is making up for lost time. From last week through to the end of January, it’s offering visitors a chance to look at what is now the world’s largest public collection of Wall’s photo-based art.

The exhibit, called simply “Jeff Wall: Vancouver Art Gallery Collection,” has nine of the gallery’s 11 Wall works on display, ranging chronologically from 1981–82’s Backpack to 2007’s War Game. The latter work, along with other recent acquisitions Concrete Ball, Children and River Road, have never been exhibited in British Columbia before.

Three of the newer acquisitions—Basin in Rome 2, Children and River Road—were gifted to the Vancouver Art Gallery by British Columbia philanthropists Michael Audain and Yoshiko Karasawa. Gallery director Kathleen Bartels says that these gifts “will remain in the Gallery’s collection in perpetuity as a legacy for the people of British Columbia and Canada.” Earlier this year, in May, Jeff Wall was also presented with the $30,000 Audain Award for Lifetime Achievement.

Given that the Vancouver Art Gallery was key in jumpstarting Wall’s career, it’s good to see them get back to form. In 1970, Wall was included in the gallery’s exhibition “955,000,” which was guest curated by Lucy Lippard. In the mid-1980s, the gallery began acquiring then-new, now-classic works like Bad Goods. And in 1990, the gallery showed the first large-scale solo exhibition of Wall’s backlit transparencies.

Though photoconceptualism no longer rules the roost in Vancouver, and its painting, performance and sculpture scenes are (quite excitingly) growing, there’s no denying Wall’s ongoing importance both at home and abroad. It’s satisfying to see so many works now on tap to support that legacy. (750 Hornby St, Vancouver BC)