p.p1 Self-Portrait (1992), with a particular emphasis on effects

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Michael Newman in his essay, “Towards the Reinvigoration of the ‘Western Tableau’: Some Notes on Jeff Wall and Duchamp (2007)”, asserts that Marcel Duchamp’s works have a significant impact on Jeff Wall’s large-scale cinematographic lightbox transparencies. By contrast, Wall’s works are frequently considered to refer to models that span the breadth of baroque, romantic, academic and early modernist painting, in particular Manet.
Wall saw Duchamp’s posthumous installation work Etant donnés (1946) at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in the winter of 1973. While there, he was also shown the Manual of Instructions that Duchamp provided for the work’s installation, which included photographs indicating the way in which a set could be constructed for a particular view. The Destroyed Room (1978), the work that Wall considers his first cinematographic photograph, is particularly indebted to the Etant donnés and the Manual of Instructions, as well as to its more obvious reference, The Death of Sardanapalus (1827). Whereas Duchamp is usually considered to be a source of Conceptual art, for Wall he provides the model for ‘constructing a picture or tableau that will prompt in the viewer a spectatorship that is both engaged – to the point of embarrassment indeed – and reflective, much like the attitude of the theatre audience proposed by Brecht’. Duchamp’s works enable Wall to exit Conceptualism and develops his now familiar tableau transparencies in the late 1970s. This exit-strategy sets Wall apart from other artists such as Richard Prince and Sherrie Levine during the late 1970s and early 1980s. They returned to the image through the reproduced photograph as a Duchampian readymade. The continuing references to Duchamp in Wall’s work are traced, such as Double Self-Portrait (1992), with a particular emphasis on effects of doubling. In the end, the question is raised of whether the critical, reflexive dimension derived in part from Duchamp survives the increasing emphasis on the values of photography as a medium and the poetic possibilities opened up by digitalization in Wall’s work from 1990. 
For Newman, Wall’s work combines a reconnection with the history of art – specifically a reinvigoration of what Wall came to call ‘the “Western” type of picture, and it is a monumentalistic type’ – with a continuation of the reflexivity of Conceptual art, and its engagement with the social and political. The key work for Wall’s new role as director of cinematographic photography was not the readymades, so crucial to Conceptual art, but the elaborate staging of Etant donnés ´s reintroduction of the pleasure of seeing bodies. Duchamp’s another work, The Large Glass (1923) plays a lesser role in Newman’s account. While Duchamp’s play with the stereoscopic view of Etant donnés, by way of its peepholes, reveals the desire in vision, it also feeds the eye as three-dimensionality, offering a degree of abundance. Newman’s purpose is to help readers see the connections between Wall’s works and Conceptual art and the impact of Duchamp in order to help them understand the uniqueness and daring of Wall’s works. Newman establishes a formal relationship with his audience of literary scholars interested in Conceptual art who are familiar with the work of Wall, Duchamp and others and are intrigued by Conceptualism.
The essay seeks a new way of understanding Wall’s transparencies and his exploration. It divided Wall’s works into several time periods with different levels of impacts from Duchamp as the medium of photography, rather than a means of making pictures. The essay clarifies some confusion about the possibility of reanimating the West tableau; it offers some theories of Duchamp’s impact on Wall’s work; it launches a critique of the differentiation between the medium and means of photography; it highlights the influence of Wall’s example on the large-scale directorial photographs of a generation of artists.

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