February 4, 2017 - S.M.A.K. - James Welling: Metamorphosis
February 4, 2017


James Welling, Seascape, 2017. Courtesy the artist.

James Welling
January 28–April 16, 2017

Jan Hoetplein 1
9000 Ghent
Hours: Tuesday–Friday 5:30pm–9:30am,
Saturday–Sunday 10am–6pm

T +32 9 323 60 01


James Welling: Metamorphosis
S.M.A.K. is glad to co-present an exhibition with James Welling (1951, Hartford, Connecticut), one of photography’s most influential pioneering artists. Astutely related to the history of American art, his work unceasingly revises issues concerning authorship, originality and representation drawn from the debates of the Pictures Generation. By showing Welling’s photography, film and other media from the early 1970s until today, this retrospective exhibition demonstrates how fluidly the artist shifts between media as he bridges gaps between documentation and abstraction, mechanic and organic, image and matter, present and past.

The exhibition features series from the early years of Welling’s work such as "Diary/Landscapes," where he juxtaposes images of a diary kept by his father’s great-great grandparents with "Connecticut Landscapes," and "Aluminum Foil," which explores the chasm between visual and verbal representation. "Light Sources and Railroad Photographs" show how Welling applies documentary photography to his purposes before embarking on "liberating colour." Examples from "Glass House," a meditation on Philip Johnson’s residence, are on display as well as "Geometric Abstractions" and "Torsos," colour photograms created in the darkroom. In "Wyeth," another artist’s biography serves as a blueprint for Welling’s imagery, just as part of his own biography as a dancing student does in "Choreograph." In his recent abstract series "Fluid Dynamics and Chemical," Welling dissolves the boundaries between painting and photography further, while his early experimental films and sculptural work suggest where this practice is rooted. His newest work, Seascape, appropriates film material shot by the artist’s grandfather in the 1930s to serve as inspiration for painting, which Welling has digitally recoloured and scored with an ethereal soundtrack created by his brother.

Installed with a non-hierarchic approach, this exhibition unfolds the relational and open structure of Welling’s oeuvre. Every new body of work reflects on existing themes and questions the limits and conventions of photography in a radical and experimental manner. By interweaving personal and cultural memory with the history of the medium, Welling’s work reverberates with a distinct poetic melancholy. The artist himself once described his practice as resembling a ventriloquist’s in that he transfuses many artistic languages through the filter of photography.

A catalogue published by Prestel will accompany the exhibition. The volume contains a conversation between Hal Foster and James Welling, as well as introductory essays by Heike Eipeldauer and Martin Germann. The book was designed by Joseph Logan.

The exhibition is co-organized by S.M.A.K., Ghent and Kunstforum Vienna. Initiative and concept: Martin Germann and Heike Eipeldauer

GAGARIN the Artists in their Own Words. 2000–2016The String Traveller
GAGARIN the Artists in Their Own Words is an international artists’ magazine founded by Wilfried Huet in 2000. Twice a year, the magazine gives artists from all over the world the opportunity to express themselves freely in words, in specially commissioned or previously unpublished texts. The exhibition The String Traveller accompanies the publication of number 33, the very last issue. It shows work by about 15 artists who share GAGARIN’s idiosyncratic approach. Its title alludes to the first man to travel in space, after whom the periodical itself was named: Yuri Gagarin.

The String Traveller is based on two Greek myths set at the labyrinth in Knossos: the Fall of Icarus and Ariadne’s Thread. In the context of the exhibition, these two figures act as alter egos of the contemporary artist. Starting out from the labyrinth of our globalised society, artists spin their threads and make risky attempts to gain an overview of society from a singular altitude. The exhibition is put together by analogy with the magazine. The rhythm, the position of the texts and the white spaces in GAGARIN correspond to the way the works are selected and placed in the exhibition space.

With works by Leonor Antunes, Jack Arnold, Rosa Barba, Maya Deren, Marcel Duchamp, João Maria Gusmão + Pedro Paiva, Bernd Lohaus, Anthony McCall, Roman Ondák, Amalia Pica, Michael Ross, Grazia Toderi, Marilou van Lierop and a reference to Pablo Picasso


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