September 25, 2012 - MK Gallery - James Welling
September 25, 2012

James Welling

James Welling, Summation, 1981 (detail). Inkjet print. Image © and courtesy the artist.

James Welling
The Mind on Fire

14 September–25 November 2012

MK Gallery
900 Midsummer Boulevard
Milton Keynes, MK9 3QA
Admission free

T +44 (0) 1908 676 900
info [​at​] 

MK Gallery presents James Welling: The Mind on Fire (14 September–25 November 2012) the first solo exhibition in a UK public gallery by the American artist James Welling (b.1951). Comprising a hundred and fifty works, the exhibition in Milton Keynes recreates some of the artist’s seminal photographic shows from New York in the early to mid 1980s, charting the development of his abstract language and experimentation with photographic effects.

Welling was an important figure in the ‘Pictures Generation,’ a loosely-knit but influential group of artists working in New York in the 1970s and 1980s, including Barbara Kruger, Sherrie Levine, Richard Prince and Cindy Sherman; collectively they became famous for their pioneering use of photography, and contributed to the gradual integration of the medium into the mainstream of contemporary art.

From the outset of his career Welling tested the parameters of photography by experimenting with the technical properties of cameras and photographic equipment, from making his own camera out of a shoe box to experimenting with a wide range of photographic film and papers.

The Mind on Fire brings together a group of works that display the sense of experimentation of this early period in the artist’s career. It includes collages, paintings, notes and ephemera related to this early period, all of which culminated in an iconic series of Aluminium Foils. These small-scale silver gelatin prints of minutely crumpled aluminium foil from the restaurant he worked in at the time, offer abstract, minimal images, which have been likened to starry skies or lunar landscapes. 

In these and subsequent bodies of work, such as the photographs of fabric drapery lightly sprinkled with pastry dough, or ink infused gelatin Welling investigates photography’s ability to produce images that are at once legible and incomprehensible. The titles used for some of the photographs, including, for example, The Waterfall (1981), evoke associations with representations of landscape, a subject that Welling has been fascinated by since his adolescence. Some of Welling’s very early landscape paintings, from the 1960s will be shown for the first time at MK Gallery.

By focussing on simple, repetitive motifs Welling sought to remove photography from its insistence on the referent in order to arrive at something approximating the ‘essence of perception.’ In concert with Welling’s desire to see how we see, rather than what we see his reduced yet very specific subject matter prompts a range of personal associations in the viewer.

The exhibition is presented in partnership with Centro Galego de Arte Contemporànea in Santiago de Compostela, Spain and Contemporary Art Gallery, Vancouver, where it will subsequently be shown.

About the artist
James Welling was born in Hartford, Connecticut, USA in 1951. He gained a B.F.A. and M.F.A. from the influential art school CalArts (California Institute of Fine Arts), where he studied under artist John Baldessari, alongside contemporaries that included David Salle, Matt Mullican and Jack Goldstein. In 1995 Welling moved to Los Angeles to head the photography area of the Art Department of UCLA, where he continues to live and work. 

Welling’s work is held in major museum collections worldwide, including the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art); Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Solomon R. Guggenheim  Museum and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the Metropolitan Museum of Photography, Tokyo.

Recent solo exhibitions include Picturing the Studio (2009), School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, USA; New Pictures 3: James Welling (2010), Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis, USA; James Welling (2012) The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut, USA, and there will be a solo show at Fotomuseum, Winterthur, Switzerland in 2013. 

Recent group exhibitions include The Pictures Generation, 1974–1984, held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York in 2009;  After Architects, (2010), Kunsthalle Basel, Switzerland; Anti-Photography, (2011), Focal Point and The Beecroft Art Gallery, Southend-on-Sea, UK and  101 Collection: Route 3, (2012), CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, San Francisco, USA.

A publication will be forthcoming, with new scholarly texts on this early period of Welling’s working life.

Artist talk
James Welling will give a public talk about his work on Saturday 13 October at 2pm. Details here.

Exhibition supporters
With thanks to Maureen Paley ( and David Zwirner ( for their support.

Press office
Katharine Sorensen ksorensen [​at​] / T +44 (0)1908 558318

MK Gallery is supported using public funding by Arts Council England and Milton Keynes.

MK Gallery
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