• Post-War and Contemporary Art  auction at Christies

    Sale 2557

    Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale

    8 May 2012, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 27

    JEFF WALL (B. 1946)

    Dead Troops Talk (A vision after an ambush of a Red Army patrol, near Moqor, Afghanistan, winter 1986)

    Price Realised  


    JEFF WALL (B. 1946)
    Dead Troops Talk (A vision after an ambush of a Red Army patrol, near Moqor, Afghanistan, winter 1986)
    transparency in lightbox
    90¼ x 164¼ in. (229.2 x 417.2 cm.)
    Executed in 1992. This work is number one from an edition of two plus one artist's proof.

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    Dead Troops Talk (A Vision after an Ambush of a Red Army Patrol, near Moqor, Afghanistan, Winter 1986) is a monumental, glowing image by Jeff Wall. Created in 1992, this tableau of the dead rising up and conversing during the Soviet-Afghan War is one of the most recognized and written-about of all Wall's works. In this image, Russian soldiers are shown sporting wounds that would not look out of place in a slasher flick, with dismembered limbs and cavities in their heads; a foot is even shown having been blasted off its owner and lodged behind a rock. This is the shell casing-strewn fog of war, yet is an image of aftermath, with the victorious Mujahedin shown picking through the loot. Unbeknownst to them, conversation has broken out among the troops, many of whom appear to be comparing notes, some of them humorously, in a deliberately traumatic and distorted resurrection.

    Wall explained that the inception of Dead Troops Talk came from out of the blue: "I had a sudden notion of a dialogue of the dead, coming from I don't know where. It had nothing to do with the Afghan war, but the subjects needed to be soldiers because it seemed important that they would have died in an official capacity, that would surely give them something to talk about... At the time I was thinking about it, the Afghan war was coming to an end" (J. Wall, quoted in C. Burnett, Jeff Wall, exh. cat., London, 2005, p. 59). Wall explained that he was influenced by war photography, and also by the contrast between the gritty realism of those images of the front line and their predecessors, the dramatic paintings created before the camera was taken into the field that were used to convey a sense of the drama and spectacle of war. In Dead Troops Talk, Wall plays with both conventions: the composition appears staged, following a formal rhythm across the canvas that recalls the nineteenth-century paintings of artists such as Gros and Géricault as well as Edouard Castres' panorama of the French retreat during the Franco-Prussian War which remains a tourist attraction in Lucerne - and itself became the subject of another of Wall's photographs during this time, Restoration. Dead Troops Talk is staged, like those images; however, the incredible impact of the gore of the wounds, the sense of the dustiness of the rubble, the sheer scale of the figures, all allow the soldiers to spill into our world under the pretenses of documentary evidence through his use of photography.

    Wall plays with our expectations of photography in order to heighten the impact of Dead Troops Talk: each detail, such as the uniforms, the weapons and the wounds, had been studied in order to lay claim to an impossible authenticity: "It was important to have that level of plausibility, and it's more interesting aesthetically to do it that way. It has a relation to ways of seeing the truth, but it doesn't have a direct relation. That's why I called it a 'hallucination', a 'vision''"(J. Wall, ibid. p. 59). Unlike the snapshots of so much war photography, the products of a captured moment, Dead Troops Talk was created over a span of six years, reflecting the incredible attention to detail that went into its contents and composition. Wall used a small team to create a set within a temporary studio in Burnaby, British Columbia. There, he recreated an imaginary rubble-strewn landscape, arranged the props, and took the group of photographs of the various clusters of people which were subsequently joined together using digital technology - in fact, for only the second time in his career (see T. Vischer & H. Naef (ed.), Jeff Wall: Catalogue Raisonné 1978-2004, Basel, 2004, p. 338).

    Wall has pointed out that, when he first had the idea for Dead Troops Talk, the Soviet-Afghan War was drawing to an end. Indeed, the Russian expenditure on the futile occupation of Afghanistan, which they had essentially invaded in order to support a Soviet regime there, and the constant battling against insurrection led by the Mujahedin was a key factor in the collapse of the USSR, a process accelerated by the rapprochement between the American President Ronald Reagan and his Russian counterpart from 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev. Dead Troops Talk shows Soviet troops - theoretically the enemies of the West - engaged in an animated conversation following their implied deaths at the hands of the Mujahedin who are present in the scene. One is inspecting the contents of a paper bag while the legs of two others are seen in the upper right, standing by the assembled weapons and ammunition of the slain Russian soldiers.

    This grants Dead Troops Talk an historical specificity; however, the theme of the horrors of war is almost timeless. Dead Troops Talk takes up the mantle of the Spanish artist Francisco Goya - indeed, the deliberately muted palette, which is lightened by the flashes of color of the blood as well as the sweets spilt in the centre, allows Wall to echo Goya's Disasters of War etchings. Wall is also referencing the documentary images that did so much to change people's concepts of these conflicts, giving them a grim, vicarious impression of the realities of life at the front, as demonstrated throughout the history of war photography, be it in Timothy O'Sullivan's 1863 photo Harvest of Death, Gettysburg, Robert Capa's harrowing images from the middle of the Twentieth Century or the pictures that we still see flowing from Afghanistan to this day, showing the destruction wrought during another occupation there.

    Wall has pointed out that, "In a sense, war pictures cannot really be 'anti-war.' They can, however, repudiate military glamour, the glamorization of combat and strategy, and focus on suffering" (J. Wall, quoted in M. Schwander, 'Restoration: Interview', pp. 86-95, Jeff Wall: The Complete Edition, London, 2009, p. 93). Essentially, in Dead Troops Talk he has circumvented the complicity of the painters and photographers who depict those conflicts, instead creating an hallucinatory image showing the range of reactions of the thirteen dead soldiers in his picture. Some of them are clowning, one showing off his wound in an echo of the depictions of Doubting Thomas and Christ, another dangling an ear from his hand. The reactions read in the faces of the thirteen reanimated corpses range from humor to horror to sheer disbelief, and what comic content there is serves only to underline the overall tragedy of the situation. Perhaps more fittingly, a couple of the soldiers lie, facing the sky, perhaps still dead, perhaps staring upwards. Straddling the border between life and death, they highlight the ambiguity of this highly narrative image. Meanwhile, life carries on: the Afghans are oblivious to these carnivalesque, grotesque goings-on, implying that this may all be, as the title implies, a vision, less like the Lady of Mons than an hallucination caused by the drugs that were so rampantly trafficked in Afghanistan, or perhaps the chaotic, feverish imaginings of another dying soul.


    Marian Goodman Gallery, New York
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

    Pre-Lot Text

    Property from the Estate of David Pincus


    J. Avigikos, "Jeff Wall: Marian Goodman Gallery," Artforum, vol. 31, no.1, September 1992, pp. 95-96.
    T. Crow, "Profane Illuminations: Social History and the Art of Jeff Wall," Artforum, vol. 31, no. 6, February 1993, pp. 67-68 (illustrated in color).
    G. Mack, "Luzern: Jeff Wall im Kunstmuseum," Kunst-Bulletin, no. 12, 1993, pp. 40-41.
    S. Maurer, "Jeff Wall, Kunstmuseum Luzern, 25 July-3 October 1993," Metropolis M, no. 5, October 1993, pp. 46-47.
    M. Schwander, "Jeff Wall," in Emanuel Hoffmann-Stiftung Basel, Wiese, 1991, pp. 278-283.
    M. Nigg, "'Die andere Seite kann man nie sehen,' Der Fotokünstler Jeff Wall arbeitet im Luzerner Bourbaki-Panorama: Ein Gespräch," Badener Tagblatt, 23 August 1993.
    M. Schwander, "Jeff Wall Interviewed," Restoration, Lucerne, 1993, pp. 16 and 27.
    S. Watson, "'Apocalypse Now,' Jeff Wall's recent photoworks reconfigure our historical moment," Canadian Art, vol. 10, no. 4, Winter 1993, pp. 40-45.
    M. Disch, "Jeff Wall: The Stumbling Block," Temporale: Revista d'arte e di cultura, no. 32/33, pp. 6 and 9.
    M. Frehrking, "Buch und Regie: Jeff Wall," Pakt, no. 2, March/April 1994, pp. 10 and 13.RJ. Müller, "Progressive Universalpoesie des Medienzeitalters," Texte sur Kunst, no. 14, June 1994, pp. 168-170.
    M. Newman, "Schjin en Waarheid in de beelden van Jeff Wall," in Jeff Wall, Tilburg, 1994, pp. 10 and 34.
    J. Schmidt, "Leuchttafeln des modernen Lebens, Beobachtungen zu Jeff Wall anlässlich einer Wanderausstellung," Kunstchronik, vol. 49, no. 9, September 1994, pp. 580-581.
    R. Seamon, "The Uneasy Sublime: Defiance and Liberal Melancholy in Jeff Wall's Documentary Spectacle," Parachute, no. 66, 1994, pp. 242 and 50.
    D. van den Boogerd, "De architectuur van het kinderspel: Dan Graham & Jeff Wall: het children's pavilion," Archis, no. 6, June 1994, pp. 34-35.
    J. Millar, "Digital Phantoms," Creative Camera, no. 326, February-March 1994, p. 28.
    G. Holg, "Chicago: Jeff Wall: Museum of Contemporary Art," Art News, col. 94, no. 8, October 1995, p. 154.
    M. Kremer, "Wonde plekken: Over enkele weken van Jeff Wall," de Witte Raaf, no. 53, January/February 1995, pp. 1-3.
    F. Migayrou, Jeff Wall: Simple Indication, Brussels, 1995, pp. 147-150.
    M. Newman, "Jeff Wall's Pictures: Knowledge and Enchantment," Flash Art, vol. 28, no. 181, March-April 1995, p. 78.
    A.M. Bonnet and R. Metzger, "Eine demokratische, eine bourgeoise Tradition der Kunst: ein Gesprahe mit Jeff Wall", Artis, no. 47, no. 2, February-March 1995, p. 49.
    J. Albig, "Jeff Wall: Wahrheit is Kein Werk von Sekunden," ART. Das Kunstmagazin, no. 6, June 1996, p. 25.
    L. Baltz, "Jeff Wall, peintre de la vie moderne," L'architecture d'aujourd'hui, no. 305, June 1996, p. 13-14.
    T. de Duve, "The mainstream and the crooked path," La confusion des genres en photographie, pp. 37-40.
    H. Friedel, Space and Vision, Munich, 1996, p. II.
    J. Lamoureux, "Montréal: Vancouver. Notes sur la représentation de l'impossible," Parachute, Montreal, no. 81, January/February/March 1996, p. 35.
    J. Lowry, "London: Jeff Wall: Whitechapel Gallery," Creative Camera, no. 340, June/July, 1996, pp. 36-37.
    J. Millar, "Grand Illusions: Jeff Wall's work does not reflect the world but it creates its own,"Blueprint, no. 127, April 1996, pp. 48-50.
    P. Usherwood, "Jeff Wall: Whitechapel Art Gallery London," Art Monthly, no. 195, April 1996, p. 25.
    R. Vine, "Wall's Wagner,"Art in America, vol. 84, no. 4, April 1996, p. 93.
    A. Wagner, "Jeff Wall: Fotografie als 'tableau vivant,'" Noëma, Vienna, no. 42, August/October, 1996, p.90.
    J. Muler, T. Hensel, "History begins now: ein interview mit Jeff Wall in Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg," Neue Zucher Zeitung , July 1996, p. 15.
    J. Peto, "Jeff Wall interview by James Peto and lecture by Jeff Wall,"Transcript, vol. 2, no. 3, 1997, pp. 24-25.
    E. Carels, "Meditaties over het alledaagse: Sokourov, Horsfield, Wall," Metropolis M, Utrecht, no. 1, February 1997, pp. 24-26.
    R. Krauss, "And then turn away?: An Essay on James Coleman," October, Cambridge, no. 81, Summer 1997, pp. 28-29.
    S. Luticken, "Het geheugen van de hedengaagse kunst: Over Gehard Richter, Jeff Wall en Mat Collishaw," Die Witte Raaf, no. 65, January-February 1995, p. 7.
    H. Man, "Jeff Wall, Dead Troops Talk," Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen Rotterdam, Bulletin, no. 31, May 1997.
    C. Milovanoff, "Art in front of witness," in Éthique, esthétique, politique, Arles, 1997, pp. 20 and 274.
    C. Strasser, Le temps de la production, Strasbourg, 1997, p. 41.
    O. M. Viso, Jeff Wall, Washington, 1997.
    J. de Duve, Jeff Wall, London, 1996, pp. 38-39 (illustrated in color).
    R. Rochlitz, L'art au banc d'essai. Esthetique et critique, Paris, 1998, pp. 415-417 and 422.
    R. Rochlitz, "Arguments esthetiques," in Définitions de la culture visuelle III: art et philosophie, Montreal, 1998, p. 143.
    N. Gingras, "On the invisible and other photographic concerns," Montreal, 1999, pp. 17 and 87.
    J. Goodman, "Jeff Wall--Pictures: 1990-1998, Museé d'art contemporain, Montreál," One Paper, New York, Vol. 4, No. 1, September-October 1999, p.65.
    R. Krauss, "Reinventing the medium," Critical Inquiry, Chicago, vol. 25, no. 2, Winter 1999, p. 297, n. 14.
    R. Lussier, "A survery of the ninties", Montreal, 1999, p. II/82-83.
    R. Enright, "The Consolation of Plausibility: An Interview with Jeff Wall", Broader Crossings, vol. 19, issue I, no. 73, 1999, p. 50.
    A. Wege, "Jeff Wall," in Art at the Turn of the Millennium, Cologne, 1999, pp. 522 and 523.
    J. Lowry, "History, allegory, technologies of vision," in History Painting Reassessed, London, 2000, pp. 103-104.
    A. Tietenberg, "Wiedersehen mit Alten Meistern. Zur Verwendung der Fotografie in der zeitgenössischen Kunst," in Uer Bilder Sprechen. Positionen und Perspektiven der Medienwissenschaften, Marburg, 2000, p. 166.
    C. Reeve, "If Computers Could Paint: Charles Reeve speaks with Jeff Wall," Books in Canada, Toronto, vol. 28, No. 8/9, Winter 2000, p. 6.
    Y. Abrioux, "Jeff Wall 1946," in 49. Esposizione Internationale d'Arte: Platea dell'umanitá, Venice, 2001, p. 74.
    J.L. Belcove, "The Great Wall," W Magazine, New York, October 2002, p. 347.
    J. Chevrier, "The Specters of the Everyday," eff Wall, London, 2002, pp. 167, 176 and 182.
    T. Holert, "Interview mit einem Vampir," Subjectivita und Visualita bei Jeff Wall, Vienna, 2003, pp. 140 and 143.
    G. Matt et al., "Go Johnny Go!" Die E-Gitarre-Kunst und Mythos, Vienna, 2003, pp. 53, 61 and 160.
    J. Herzo and P. Ursprung, "Pictures of Architecture--Architecture of Pictures. A Conversation between Jacques Herzog and Jeff Wall moderated by Philip Ursprung, Basel, November 4th, 2003," Bregenz, 2004, p. 47.
    F. Tietjen, "Jeff Wall, interview by Friedrich Tietjen," Camera Austria International, vol. 82, 2003, pp. 8 and 14.
    T. Vischer and H. Naef, eds., Jeff Wall Catalogue Raisonné, 1978-2004, Basel, 2004, pp. 122-123, no. 46 (illustrated in color).
    M. Newman, Jeff Wall: Works and Collected Writings, Barcelona, 2007 (illustrated in color).
    T. de Duve, Jeff Wall: The Complete Edition, London, 2009, pp. 20-21 (illustrated in color).
    U. Bischoff, ed., Jeff Wall: transit, Dresden, 2010, p. 27 (illustrated in color).


    New York, Marian Goodman Gallery, Jeff Wall, April-May 1992.
    Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal, Par la suite du monde, May-October 1992.
    Pully, Musée d'Art Contemporain; Castello di Rivoli, Museo d'Arte Contemporanea; Athens, Deste Foundation for Contemporary Art and Deichtohallen Hamburg, Post Human, June 1992-May 1993.
    Lucerne, Kunstmuseum Luzern; Dublin, Irish Museum of Art; Deichtorhallen Hamburg and Kunsthalle Dusseldorf, Jeff Wall. Transparencies. Dead Troops Talk, July 1993-June 1994, pp. 35, 42 and 51 (illustrated in color).
    Berlin, RealismusStudio at Neue Gesellschaft für Bildende Kunst, Erzeugte Realitäten I: Jeff Wall: Das computergenerierte Historienbild. Eine Studie anhand der Fotoarbeit Dead Troops Talk, A Vision After an Ambush of a Red Army Patrol, Near Moqor, Afghanistan, Winter 1986, July-August 1994, p. 94 (illustrated in color).
    San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Public Information: Desire, Disaster, Document, January-April 1995, p. 131.
    Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Jeff Wall, September-November 1994.
    San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Public Information: Desire, Disaster, Document, January-April 1995, p. 131.
    Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art; Paris, Galerie National du Jeu de Paume; Helsinki, Finnish National Gallery, Museum of Contemporary Art and London, Whitechapel Art Gallery, Jeff Wall, June 1995-May 1996, pp. 8, 9 and 13, no. 50 (illustrated in color).
    Paris, Musée nationale d'art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Face à l'histoire 1933-1996: l'artiste moderne devant l'èvènement historique, December 1996-April 1997, p. 526.
    Washington, D.C., Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden and Los Angeles, Museum of Contemporary Art, Jeff Wall, February 1997-March 1998, pp. 114-115 and 16 (illustrated in color).
    Musée d'art contemperain de Montréal, Jeff Wall: Oeuvres 1990-1998, February-April 1999, pp. 32-33 (illustrated in color).
    Florence, Stazione Leopolda and New York, Institute for Contemporary Art, P.S. 1 Museum, Uniform: Order and Disorder, January-December
    Ume, BildMuseet; Sollentuna, Edsvik Konst och Kultur; Helsinki, Finnish Museum of Photography and Härnosand, Länsmuseet Västernorrland, The Politics of Place: Andreas Gursky, Nanna H, Anthony Haughey, Margareta Klingberg, Maria Lantz, Walter Niedermayr, Ingird Pollard, Jorma Puranen, Tobjorn Rodlan, Allan Sekula, Jeff Wall, February 2002-May 2003, pp. 10-11 and 30-33 (illustrated in color).
    Berlin, Matin Gropius-Bau and Moscow, Tretjakow Gallery, Berlin-Moskau/Moskau-Berlin, 1950-2000, funfzig Jahre russich-deutscher Kunstbeziehungen, September 2003-June 2004 (Berlin only).
    Basel, Schaulager and London, Tate Modern, Jeff Wall-Photographs
    , April 2005-January 2006, no. 10 (illustrated in color).
    Venice, Palazzo Grassi, Where are we Going?: Selections from the François Pinault Collection, April-October 2006, pp. 62-63 (illustrated in color).
    New York, Museum of Modern Art; Chicago, Museum of Modern Art and Art
    Institute of Chicago, Jeff Wall, February 2007-January 2008, pp.
    98-99, no 16 (illustrated in color).