PRINT December 2014


Michael Fried

James Welling: Monograph (Aperture) is a sensationally attractive book. It was published to coincide with a large survey exhibition of the artist’s work from the 1970s through 2012 that opened at the Cincinnati Art Museum and traveled to the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, where I caught up with it. The main text, by James Crump, is an exemplary account of Welling’s career to date: It proceeds in chronological order, series by series, with unflagging intelligence and critical acumen. Not only does Crump do justice to the critical literature, but time and again he contributes new information about Welling’s practice based on extensive conversations with the artist and provides insights into the work that even the most informed and sophisticated reader can only be grateful for. A short conversation between Welling and Museum of Modern Art curator Eva Respini (“On Photography and Influence”) is fascinating, and there are also two short essays: Mark Godfrey’s is on the “Light Sources” series, 1977–2005, and Thomas Seelig’s on what he sees as Welling’s commitment to analog processes. But what gives Monograph its special allure are the 250 technically superb illustrations (although the word seems off-key in a book where the quality of reproduction is consistently so high) in black-and-white and color, which offer a brilliant tour d’horizon of Welling’s remarkably inventive, multifarious, often lyrically beautiful production. No one perusing this dazzling and substantial book could possibly doubt that Welling ranks among the foremost photographic artists in the world today.

Michael Fried is J. R. Herbert Boone professor of humanities and the history of art at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.