New 7-figure record for Jeff Wall

[14 Aug 2012]


In May 2012, Jeff Wall’s Dead Troops Talk generated his latest auction record when it went under the hammer for the equivalent of $3.2 million. This sum would appear to indicate that the market is now willing to honour an artistic career and a critical spirit spanning 40 years.

Jeff WALL composes his pictures as though they were paintings and he works with visual codes that allow him to condense the meaning into a single image. His references, which he draws as much from the history of art as from contemporary reality, constantly pose philosophical questions about representation. Since the 1990s, he generally builds large backlit works (often two or three metres) that could be described as documentary fictions created within a cinematographic logic. He also mobilises the memory and imagination of his viewers. His ability to break the boundaries of the photography genre has already earned him numerous prizes, including the Hasselblad prize in 2002, as well as exhibitions around the world, including the Tate Modern in London (October 2005 – January 2006) and MoMA (25 February to 14 May 2007).

When his exhibition at the MoMA opened in February 2007, Andreas GURSKY, the world’s most expensive photographer, said that Jeff Wall was a major source of inspiration for him. However, at the time, there was a huge price gap between the two artists: Wall’s auction record standing at only $250,000 for The Well (Ed. 1/2, Phillips New York, 13 November 2000) while Gursky’s was close to $3m for 99 cent II (£1.5m at Sotheby’s London, 7 February 2007). On 1 July 2008, The Well sold for £540,000 (more than $1m) at Sotheby’s London setting an auction record that stood for four years until the above mention sale of Dead Troops Talk for $3.2m in May 2012. Dead Troops Talk is a huge macabre fiction created in 1992 (229.2 x 417.2 cm, Ed.1/2) inspired by an article on a Red Army patrol that was blown to pieces in Afghanistan in April 1986. Thirteen soldiers wake up after an ambush in a quagmire of earth and blood with their guts exposed and their limbs torn. The thirteen actors in this drama express madness, shock, despair and anger, a set of emotions that relate to the absurdity of the situation and of war in general, but the works also echoes the visions of horror developed by Francisco José DE GOYA Y LUCIENTES in his War Disasters. In Dead Troops Talk Jeff Wall has created a complex fresco in which attention has been paid to every detail. The work took six years to make and required technical means worthy of a war movie for the hyper-realistic injuries, as well as extensive composition and retouching work.

Thanks to Dead Troops Talk, Jeff Wall is not only recognized as one of the greatest Contemporary artists by critics, he also now has the explicit support of the art market. His new record takes the third place in our ranking of the best auction results for Contemporary photographers behind Andreas Gursky and Cindy SHERMAN.