viewing the gaze

The MOMA’s current show on Jeff Wall displays as well a selction of images online. Among them the often mentioned Picture for Women, 1979, which is worth a bit closer look.
Jeff Wall himself describes his work on the MOMA online exhibition page as following:

Picture for Women (1979) is a remake of Manet’s picture. The Bar had really impressed me: I’d seen it repeatedly in the Courtauld Gallery in London when I was a student. I wanted to comment on it, to analyze it in a new picture, to try to draw out of its inner structure, that famous positioning of figures, male and female, in an everyday working situation which was also a situation of specularity, that regime of distraction and entertainment which Manet dealt with. I made my picture as a theoretical diagram in an empty classroom. Maybe for Manet this spectacular regime was something immediate; but at the time I made Picture for Women these things had become openly theoretical, political issues, mainly through
E.Manet, The Bar at the Folies Bergères


J.Wall, Picture for Women, 1979

the influence of the women’s movement in the art world. There were lessons being learned throughout the period, so maybe the classroom setting has something to do with this. I think that, at that time it was not so unusual to be bringing together a kind of theoretical activity-study – if you like – with the enjoyment of pictures.

Definitly it is an image reflecting on the view and marked by its own timely circumstances, as the discussion on view, gaze and gender issues of that time. Nevertheless still a layered one to think about.
… on the course website of George Dillon from Washington University the following interesting excerpt can be found:

… rather, I think that our awareness that we are looking at a photograph collapses. Our brain tells us the woman is posed in an utterly contrived position with her hands resting on the edge of a plywood sheet not more than 4 feet wide facing directly into a large plate glass mirror. If we stood where the camera is pointing and the woman appears to be looking, we would see the back of a large mirror, or else the other side of the wall on which the mirror was mounted. But perceptually one or two (incompatible) conclusions seem evident: either she and her assistant Mr. Wall are waiting for you to come to the camera to take the shot, or they are about to take your picture. This completes the turning of the tables on the viewer, who becomes, finally, the viewee. Surely the title, “Picture for Women” is some sort of pointer. Then her remarkable gaze becomes The Gaze, the regard classically directed from the male observer toward the female object, now here reversed.
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