Jeff Wall (Canadian, born 1946)
Silver dye bleach print in light box
7 ft. 6 1/4 in. x 14 ft. 4 1/8 in. (22.92 x 43.72 m)
Purchase, Charlene and David Howe, Henry Nias Foundation Inc., Jennifer and Robert Yaffa, Harriet Ames Charitable Trust, and Gary and Sarah Wolkowitz Gifts, 2006 (2006.91)
Jeff Wall's staged tableaux straddle the worlds of the museum and the street. The scale and ambition of his picturesscenes of everyday life shot through with larger intimations of political struggleevoke equally the Salon paintings of mid-nineteenth-century French painters such as Gustave Courbet and Édouard Manet and advertising light boxes of the kind seen in airport terminals and bus stops, a form of presentation that Wall famously adopted as his own beginning in the late 1970s.
The Storyteller is daringly constructed around a compositional void, where the virgin forest comes crashing up against the ship's-prow shape of the highway. Various groupings of modern urban castaways (ironically, descendants of the Native Americans who occupied the land before the arrival of Europeans) are dispersed on the hillside like shards splintered from an explosion. This is an image of displacement, separation, and social alienation; yet with the inclusion of the "storyteller" at the lower left, the work is ultimately hopeful. By suggesting the potential for cultural traditions to survive historical amnesia, the homogenizing effects of the media, and the empty promises of technological progress, Wall's picture becomes a statement about the meaning and function of art itself.