James Welling: The Mind on Fire

14 Sep 2012 – 25 Nov 2012

Event times

Tuesday—Friday: 12pm—8pm, Saturday: 11am—8pm, Sunday: 11am—5pm

Cost of entry


MK Gallery

Milton Keynes, United Kingdom


Travel Information

  • Local Buses: Frequent daily buses run from Central Bus Station and Milton Keynes Central rail station stops on Midsummer Boulevard outside MK Gallery and Milton Keynes Theatre.
  • Nearest station: Milton Keynes Central

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James Welling: The Mind on Fire


This autumn 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 around a hundred and thirty works, the exhibition at MK Gallery will recreate 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 Contemporà Â nea in Santiago de Compostela, Spain and Contemporary Art Gallery, Vancouver, where it will subsequently be shown.

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