Critics’ Picks

James Welling, 0818 (Glass House Series), 2006, digital ink-jet print, 33 5/8 x 50 1/2". From the “Glass House Series,” 2006.

James Welling, 0818 (Glass House Series), 2006, digital ink-jet print, 33 5/8 x 50 1/2". From the “Glass House Series,” 2006.

Chicago

James Welling

Donald Young Gallery
224 S Michigan Ave Suite 266
November 21–January 16, 2009

“Hapax Legomena”—words that appear only once in a writer’s oeuvre—is the title James Welling has given to this compact yet conceptually wide-ranging exhibition of forty photographs culled from the past thirty-five years. Inspired by Hollis Frampton’s series of seven “Hapax Legomena” avant-garde films, including the groundbreaking (nostalgia) (1971), Welling has assembled a group of singular images––cut-ups, prototypes, painted photographs, and other poetically isolated one-offs that enjoy a parenthetical relationship to the artist’s better-known bodies of work.

Among the earliest images are two Marlboro advertisements torn from magazines, placed in standard-size document frames, and exhibited as part of Welling’s 1974 thesis show at the California Institute for the Arts. At the time, Welling considered his appropriation of the ads to be “a radical act, a ’70s version of Duchamp’s readymade,” as he wryly notes in the press release. These youthful gestures eventually give way to more subtle explorations of photography’s formal and conceptual possibilities. Welling often physically manipulates his images by hand: a scratched ink drawing titled Orchard and a scorched silver gelatin print painted with ink and rubbed against a desk to produce a craqueleure finish, both from 1980, provide two of many such examples on view. More recently, Welling has added expressionistic scrims of color to his architectural images, using color filters to photograph Philip Johnson’s Glass House, for example, and adding thin washes of acrylic paint to others. Taken as a whole, “Hapax Legomena” demonstrates the remarkable breadth of Welling’s experimental approach to photography, one that combines a painter’s interest in the elasticity of form with a structuralist filmmaker’s reflexive focus on medium specificity.