Jeff Wall (b. 1946)
Jeff Wall (b. 1946)

Bloodstained garment

Jeff Wall (b. 1946)
Bloodstained garment
transparency in lightbox
54¾ x 69½in. (139 x 176.5cm.)
Executed in 2003, this work is number three from an edition of five plus one artist's proof
Marian Goodman Gallery, New York.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2007.
Schrift - Bilder - Denken: Die Kunst der Gegenwart und Walter Benjamin, Formen des Gedenkens in der zeitgenössischen Kunst, exh. cat., Berlin, Haus am Waldsee, 2004.
T. Vischer and H. Naef (ed.), Jeff Wall Catalogue Raisonné 1978-2004, Göttingen 2005, no. 112 (illustrated in colour, p. 251, illustrated, p. 422).
M. Newman, Jeff Wall. Works and Collected Writings, Barcelona 2007 (another from the edition illustrated in colour, p. 194).
Jeff Wall: Exposure, exh. cat., Berlin, Deutsche Guggenheim, 2007, fig. 18 (another from the edition illustrated in colour, p. 28).
M. Lewis, J.-F. Chevrier, T. de Duve, A. Pelenc and B. Groys, Jeff Wall: The Complete Edition, London 2009 (another from the edition illustrated in colour, p. 202).
New York, Marian Goodman Gallery, Jeff Wall, 2004.
Oslo, Astrup Fearnley Museet, Jeff Wall. Tableaux, 2003-2004 (another from the edition exhibited, illustrated in colour, p. 63).
Basel, Schaulager Basel, Jeff Wall. Photographs 1978-2004, 2005-2006, no. 112 (another from the edition exhibited).
Mexico City, Museo Tamayo, Jeff Wall, 2008 (another from the edition exhibited, illustrated in colour, unpaged).
Another work from the edition is on permanent loan from the Emanuel Hoffmann Foundation to the Öffentliche Kunstsammlung Basel, Basel.


'For all that they may appear more chanced-upon-just the set, without the characters-the stage of even these scant elements is as powerful as in any of Jeff Wall's work'
(B. Fer, 'The Space of Anxiety', in Jeff Wall, exh. cat., Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago 1996, p. 25).

In this haunting photograph Jeff Wall has created an image of searing force and incredible impact, using the unnerving visual cue of a crumpled, bloodstained cloth. Executed in 2003, the year after Wall was granted the prestigious Hasselblad Award recognising major achievements in photography, this striking work is characteristic of Wall's celebrated oeuvre, rooted as it is in the roughness and even shabbiness of the immediate situation. Rather than portray a large expanse populated with figures, in Bloodstained garment Jeff Wall has honed in on a tiny, esoteric corner of his universe, the focus of which is a hospital gown reddened with blood. This sinister, wrinkled garment has been cast aside upon an asphalt drive at the base of an imposing chain link gate, hinting at some form of struggle or violence. The stage for this suggested encounter is a derelict industrial wasteland, with a moss covered path, scattered debris and tufts of unkempt grass leading from the wire fencing to an unremarkable stretch of buildings in the background. The sky is unsettling in its absence, lending a claustrophobic air to the artist's depiction of an outdoor space. The point of view in this image is unrelenting, with a sense that the artist has pointed the camera downwards or even crouched down to capture the scene that he has stumbled upon.

Bloodstained garment is fraught with a suspended tension, with the glistening rivulets of blood almost tactile upon the lightbox's surface. The implied event remains a mystery, the image existing as a mere reference point to an unknown episode, with the viewer left to draw his or her own inferences as to what might have taken place. The soiled cloth echoes Joseph's bloodstained garments in the Biblical painting Joseph's Bloody Coat Brought to Jacob (1630) by Velázquez, an artist whose work Wall studied while at the Courtauld Institute of Art, London. Citingthe tradition of memento mori, Wall's bloodied garment also acts as a modern day Vanitas object, serving to remind man of the transience of his earthly life.

This image originates not from the artist's imagination but instead documents a scene observed by him by chance in Vancouver in the spring of 2003, thus differentiating it from Wall's staged, cinematographic works such as Dead Troops Talk (1992). However as Briony Fer has observed, 'It is tempting to see these relatively empty images as a dormant, inanimate underside to the spectacular figure compositions. Yet they are not so different. For all that they may appear more chanced-upon - just the set, without the characters - the stage of even these scant elements is as powerful as in any of Jeff Wall's work' (B. Fer, 'The Space of Anxiety', in Jeff Wall, exh. cat., Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago 1996, p. 25).

Jeff Wall's artistic practice involves the use of large-format transparencies, mounted in aluminium boxes and illuminated from behind with his use of the lightbox technique. The direct effect of the lighting in combination with the sense of scale affords a majestic quality to Wall's pictures. Only gradually does it become apparent that - in contrast to the promise of the illuminated surfaces - the subject matter consists of understated scenes, most of them derived or directly recorded from ordinary life, as in Bloodstained garment. 'I just kept seeing these things at the bus terminals', recounts Wall, 'and it just clicked that those backlit pictures might be a way of doing photography that would somehow connect those elements of scale and the body that were important to Donald Judd and Barnett Newman and Jackson Pollock, as well as Velázquez, Goya, Titian or Manet' (J. Wall, quoted in C. Burnett, Jeff Wall, London, 2005, p. 9).