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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Jeff Wall, Jewish Russlander Photographer

Eena dee schienent Bilda aufnemmt

Jeff Wall by Hermann Wendler, 2007
   IIn tracing and detailing the extent of the Russian Mennonite diaspora, one spends a lot of time on the look-out for key names – such as Toews, Unrau, Wiens, etc.  Many names, however, exist well beyond the diaspora – Becker, Unger, Wall, etc. 

   Regarding the surname Wall, I have always been intrigued by the artist Jeff David Wall of Vancouver, British Columbia – is he of the Dutch Wall’s, the Norwegian Wahl’s, the Irish Wall’s (who are actually Dutch) or the Mennonite Wall’s – if he is Mennonite, is he of the Belgian Vanderwalle’s  or de Walles, or of the Frisien Walde / Waldens?  Nor is Wall’s photo of any assistance.  I, for example, look just like my father, grandfather, great-grandfather – all the way back to C.M. Wall, the earliest for whom an image exists.  Wall does not look unlike a Dutch-Flemish Wall, but they have also, possibly due to shared heritage, also looked suspiciously Irish.
   So leaving off the Jerry Springer – Montel Williams investigatory work , Arthur Lubow, of the New York Times, actually published the answer to the dilemma in his bio-piece on Jeff Wall , 25 February, 2007.  In a piece title “The Luminist,” Lubow reveals that Jeff Wall, that great Canadian photographic artist is actually – “Jewish”.  “Jewish?” one asks.  “Jewish” he says.

   Interesting, but the plot thickens even further – Jeff Wall is Jewish – all four of his grandparents were Jews from Odessa.  So Wall is Jewish, but his also Russländer Jewish from Odessa – the commercial center for the more rural Ukrainian Mennonite colonies of Chortitza and Molotschna. 
“One of three children born to a physician father and a homemaker mother, Wall, who is 60, grew up in a comfortable neighborhood in south Vancouver, where his parents encouraged his early ambition to be an artist. Although all four of his grandparents were Jewish immigrants from the Ukrainian city of Odessa, and he has produced two photographs set in a Jewish cemetery, he says that his parents “weren’t religious, weren’t very observant of anything,” and that Judaism “is not a subject that I’m that obsessed or fascinated by.”” (Lubow, NYT).
   Until this point, I was not aware that Wall was a Jewish surname – it is a given name, not patronymic, so its existence in either a Germanic or the Jewish culture presents a sort of dilemma.  But its appearance in Odessa widens the mystery (which truthfully could be quite easily cleared up by contacting the Wall, I suppose – but I will rest secure in the Russländer – Odessa – BC connections – what more can one really ask?).
   Interestingly, cruising several Jewish genealogical sites (the equivalent of our Gramma), one finds that the Jewish surname Wall seems to only occur relating to Odessa and a subsequent migration to Argentina.  Interesting.

   Regardless, our Russländer Jewish cousin has made quite a name for himself in the world art scene – his photography is collected in almost every major contemporary art collection in the world including the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, the Art Institute of Chicago, MOMA in New York, various museums in Germany, and even the sacrosanct Centre Pompideau in Paris.  His is big stuff – and so is his art – often measuring over 10 square feet – as many as 84 square feet – his back-lit prints are huge.
“I don’t like the traditional 8 by 10 … They were done that size as displays for prints to run in books. It’s too shrunken, too compressed. When you’re making things to go on a wall, as I do, that seems too small.” The art that he liked best, from the full-length portraits of Velázquez and Manet to the drip paintings of Jackson Pollock and the floor pieces of Carl Andre, engaged the viewer on a lifelike human scale. They could be walked up to (or, in Andre’s case, onto) and moved away from. They held their own, on a wall or in a room. “If painting can be that scale and be effective, then a photograph ought to be effective at that size, too,” (Lubow, ibid).

   Wall recently made news when his studio piece Dead Troops Talk (1992) fetched a record US$3.67 million at Christies – New York.
   Dead Troops Talk could be interpreted as a peace-motive.  Wall subtitled the work, A vision after an ambush of a Red Army patrol, near Moqor, Afghanistan, winter 1986.  It shows a number of Soviet troops waking up after the battle and beginning to converse – seemingly an attempt to come to grips with their massacre by the USA-backed Mujahedeen rebels.  Afghanistan was invaded by NATO troops after the 9-11 Attacks of 2001 – that the American and Canadian troops were now fighting the same Mujahedeen rebels they had once backed against the invading Soviet forces, only adds subsequent depth and expression to the work.

Dead Troops Talk, 1992
   Of course, my favorite Wall pieces are still The Flooded Grave (1999-2000), an image of a flooded Jewish cemetery on display at the Art Institute of Chicago, and Morning Cleaning, 1999, held by the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  Morning Cleaning shows the cleaning of the Mies van der Rohe pavilion at the Barcelona World’s Fair – one of the world’s greatest photographers photographing the work of one of the 20th Centuries greatest architects in the mundane state of being cleaned.  Such is the eye and genius of Wall – a Russländer for the 21st Century, if our closest connection is merely Odessa and not Molotschna.

Flooded Grave, 1999-2000

Morning Cleaning, 1999


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A. F. Wiens (1) A. H. Leahman (1) A. J. Wall (1) Abraham Gerber (1) Abram Groening (1) Adam Carroll (2) AIMM (3) Albert Wall (7) Allison Mack (1) Anne-Marie Goertzen Wall (1) Annie C. Funk (1) Aron Wall (1) B. F. Hamilton (1) Benjamin Mubenga (1) Benjamin Sprunger (1) Bernhard Dueck Kornelssen (1) Berry Friesen (1) Bitter Poets (3) Bob Jones University (2) Brandon Beachy (1) Brendan Fehr (1) Bruce Hiebert (1) C. Henry Niebuhr (1) C. R. Voth (1) Calvin Redekop (3) Carolyn Fauth (3) CBC News (1) Charles King (1) Chris Goertzen (1) Connie Mack (1) Corrie ten Boom (1) Dale Suderman (2) Daniel Friesen (1) Danny Klassen (1) David Classen (1) Dennis Wideman (1) Diane Driedger (3) Dick Lehman (1) Donald Kraybill (1) Donald Plett (1) Dora Dueck (1) Dustin Penner (1) Dwaine and Nancy Wall (1) Edna Ruth Byler (1) Eduard Wust (1) Elliott Tapaha (1) Elvina Martens (1) Eric Fehr (1) Esther K. Augsburger (1) Ethel Wall (1) Frente Menonita (1) Fritz and Alice Wall Unger (1) Gbowee (1) Georg Hansen (1) George P. Schultz (3) George S. Rempel (1) George Schultz (1) Gordon C. Eby (1) Goshen College (4) Gus Stoews (1) H. C. Wenger (1) H. F. Epp (1) Harold S. Bender (1) Heidi Wall Burns (2) Helen Wells Quintela (1) Henry Epp (1) Henry Toews (1) Ian Buruna (1) Isaac Peters (6) J. C. Wall (3) J. T. Neufeld (2) Jakob Stucky (1) James Duerksen (1) James Reimer (1) Jason Behr (1) Jeff Wall (1) Jim Kuebelbeck (1) Joetta Schlabach (2) Johann F. Kroeker (1) John Howard Yoder (1) John Jacob Wall (1) John R. Dick (1) John Rempel (1) John Roth (1) Jonathan Groff (1) Jonathan Toews (2) Jordi Ruiz Cirera (1) Kathleen Norris (4) Kelly Hofer (3) Kevin Goertzen (1) Keystone Pipeline (3) Leymah Gbowee (1) Linda May Shirley (1) Lionel Shriver (1) Lorraine Kathleen Fehr (2) Margarita Teichroeb (1) Marlys Wiens (2) Martin Fast (1) Matt Groening (2) Melvin D. Epp (1) Menno Simons (3) Micah Rauch (1) Michael Funk (1) Moody Bible Institute (2) Nancy Wall (4) Norma Jost Voth (1) O. J. Wall (2) Orlando J. Wall (3) Patrick Friesen (4) Peter Wall (1) Philip Landis (1) Phillip Jakob Spener (1) Rachael Traeholt (2) Randy Smart (3) Rhoda Janzen (1) Rob Nicholson (2) Robin Martins (1) Robyn Regehr (1) Roger Williams (1) Rosella Toews (1) Ruth Lederach (1) Sam Mullet (3) Sam Schmidt (1) Scot McKnight (1) Stacey Loewen (2) Stanley Hauerwas (2) Steven Wall (6) Susan Mark Landis (1) Taylor Kinney (1) Tom Airey (2) Victor Toews (4)