Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago

This Will Have Been: Art, Love & Politics in the 1980s

Feb 11–Jun 3, 2012

Jeff Wall’s Picture for Women explores the feminist concept of the gaze. Feminist theory proposed that throughout the history of Western art, images have overwhelmingly depicted men looking and women being looked at, situating the viewer as active and the subject as passive. Typical of Wall’s ongoing dialogue with art history, this photograph recalls impressionist artist Édouard Manet’s (French, 1832–83) Bar at the Folies-Bergère (1882) in its composition and thematic content, particularly the radical way the central female figure looks directly out at the viewer, refuting historical ideas about the nature of the gaze. Foregrounding the staged quality of his image, Wall invites viewers to consider the complex dynamics of the gaze from the perspective of the female model, the male photographer, and the camera, all of which are complicated by the reflective surface of the mirror, which is both unseen and central to the composition.