Chicago

James Welling

Donald Young Gallery

“I picked up this wonderful word, ‘ventriloquism,’ and when I discovered photography, I realized that it was the perfect ventriloquist’s medium,” James Welling said in a 2003 interview with critic Jan Tumlir. “I could throw my voice into different sorts of pictures: I could speak in many different formal languages.” After thirty years, however, even a practice predicated on difference can yield tautologies. Not so for Welling; he has remained diligently attentive to the structural variations possible within his medium, moving with admirable fluidity from one innovative investigation to the next.

To frame this overview exhibition, which samples eighteen of Welling’s heterogeneous bodies of work, the artist seized on another concept: hapax legomena. The term—taken from philology by way of filmmaker Hollis Frampton—refers to words that only appear once in an author’s oeuvre. Yet every work

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