Rooted in the medium of photography, Christopher Williams examines the use and agency of images as they function within the industrial culture of the late capitalist era, investigating its systems of meaning and classification. Working primarily with singular images throughout a range of photographic styles and genres, Williams’s technically precise photographs, often produced in collaboration with set designers, models, and technicians, recall imagery from 1960s advertising, the Cold War era, as well as the histories of art, photography, and cinema, from Pop Art and Capitalist Realism to New Objectivity and Surrealism.
Williams’s work does not end when the photograph is taken, but includes all elements of its display, such as printing, matting, framing, hanging height, titles, and so on, as crucial aspects of the reception of the image. Much in the same way that a playscript is adapted for each new performance, the reception visual images are dependent on their methods and context of display. Each of Williams’s exhibitions represents careful stagings and restagings of the photographs, constructing a montage-like relationship between images that, underscored by an explicit relationship to contextual elements such as architecture, exhibition design, and institutional frameworks, demonstrates the provisional nature of the meaning of images.
Theater has increasingly been a touchstone for Williams, and the exhibition Christopher Williams . MODEL: Kochgeschirre, Kinder, Viet Nam (Angepasst zum Benutzen) at C/O Berlin utilizes its terminology to restage three rooms from previous exhibitions, including Wiels Center for Contemporary Art in Brussels, Galerie Nächst St. Stephan in Vienna, and a solo booth at the Frieze Art Fair in New York. In addition to replicating these presentations within the terms of a new exhibition at C/O Berlin, each physical element of the photographs has also been reconsidered, reprinted in a different size, and framed with different materials. Each of these rooms presents adaptations of these earlier permutations, underlining the exhibition format itself as a medium. A fourth room in the exhibition at C/O Berlin includes a display of materials on loan from the archives of Bertolt Brecht, Guy Debord, Harun Farocki, Peter Weiss, and Edward Weston, building a historical ground for a discussion about adaptation, modeling, and the reuse of existing images.
The photographs on display include the genres of portraiture, still life, and street photography, with subjects ranging from camera lenses, a stage set, shop-window displays, an African mask, and the staging of professional models for the production of their own image. These photographs are also often made based on existing images or image types, adapting and isolating fragments from our image world at large, reframing them for an analysis of the terms under which our culture produces and consumes them.
This general introduction sets the stage for a tense family drama.
Image below: Installaton view, Christopher Williams, MODEL: Kochgeschirre, Kinder, Viet Nam (Angepasst zum Benutzen), C/O Berlin, 2019
Christopher Williams’s work critically investigates the medium of photography and the transformations of industrial and post-industrial culture, focusing particularly on the structures of representation and classification in modern society. Kochgeschirr Adapted for Use, the artist’s presentation at Frieze New York, was an adaptation of Williams’s theater production Stage Play, which was presented in Zurich in May 2017. The elements of this restaging included five new photographs, which are themselves adaptations and restagings of themes and imagery that the artist has previously explored; two silkscreen posters; a modular wall; a suite of Franz West–designed furniture; and the David Zwirner sales team, who were repurposed as the theater troupe.
Images: Christopher Williams, Model Cookware Adapted for Use at Frieze New York, 2019. Photos by Dan Bradica
Christopher Williams spoke as part of The Exhibition as Medium, a day of talks organized by London-based writer, curator, and artist David Campany during Paris Photo. "Photographic artists often look beyond the single image to the body of work—the set, the suite, the series, the album the archive and the typology," Campany writes in the introduction to the program; "In recent years many have extended this idea even further, into the gallery space, turning the exhibition itself into their medium. . . . The photograph itself is only one part of how they understand their work. At the same time, progressive museums and galleries have developed innovative strategies for presenting photographic material."
Saturday, November 10, 2 PM (part of a ticketed event)
Auditorium, Level 1, Paris Photo, Grand Palais, Paris
Williams, whose practice investigates conventions of pictorial production and presentation, has expressed an interest in establishing a more "mobile" position as an artist, alternately acting as "camera operator, picture editor, exhibition designer, graphic designer." "Christopher Williams breaks all the rules," Sean O’Hagan writes in a review of The Production Line of Happiness, Williams’s critically acclaimed survey that traveled from the Art Institute of Chicago to The Museum of Modern Art in New York and London’s Whitechapel Gallery from 2014 to 2015; "For a start, some of the walls have been flown in from his recent show in Germany—and the captions on the works are from the Whitechapel’s previous show, Adventures of the Black Square. The confusion these now-random captions cause for the viewer are as integral to the exhibition as the hanging of the prints."
May 5–July 29, 2018
Christopher Williams: Normative Models continued the artist’s active investigation of conventions of pictorial production and presentation. Seven key photographs were displayed within a system of eleven freestanding wall works that intervened in the architecture of the exhibition space, underscoring Williams’s self-described interest in establishing a more "mobile" position as an artist, alternately acting as "camera operator, picture editor, exhibition designer, graphic designer." Curated by Christina Végh and Lea Altner, Normative Models marked the artist’s first solo exhibition in Hanover.
Deeply political and historical, Christopher Williams’s (b. 1956) photographs evoke a subtle shift in our perception by questioning the communication mechanisms and aesthetic conventions that influence our understanding of reality. Deploying a style of photography that references multiple sources and precedents, including the carefully composed and well-lit images of the 1920s New Objectivity movement, the photo-conceptualism that he encountered as a student at CalArts in the 1970s, and the advertisement industry, Williams creates layered works that critically, but also playfully, reveal the conditions of the medium in post-industrial society.
Williams, who is originally from Los Angeles, is currently professor of photography at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf. The artist has presented a number of solo exhibitions under the title Christopher Williams. For Example: Dix-Huit Leçons Sur La Société Industrielle, versions of which have been shown in Germany at the Kunstverein Braunschweig (2005), the Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden (2010), and the Museum Morsbroich, Leverkusen (2011). Williams’s work was first presented in Hanover as part of group exhibitions at the Sprengel Museum in the early 1990s.
The artist’s first major museum retrospective, Christopher Williams: The Production Line of Happiness, traveled from The Art Institute of Chicago to The Museum of Modern Art, New York, and London’s Whitechapel Gallery from 2014 to 2015. For The New York Times critic Roberta Smith, viewing the show in New York, the exhibition conveyed "the complexity of Mr. Williams’s achievement and of art making itself with a wondrous lucidity."
Image: Installation view, Christopher Williams: Normative Models, kestnergesellschaft, Hanover, 2018. Photo by Raimund Zakowski.
November 26, 2017–March 4, 2018
Four works—Supplement* 1990 (1989—a portfolio containing eight works), Angola to Vietnam*, 1989 (1989), Figure I-III, Accretions (1992), and Brasil, 1989 (1988)—as well as two catalogues by Christopher Williams were included in the exhibition Jump into the future – Art from the 90’s and 2000’s. The Borgmann Donation at the Stedelijk Museum. The exhibition was a group presentation of works dating from the 1990s and early 2000s from the collection of Thomas Borgmann. The exhibition’s title aimed to reflect Borgmann's prescience in acquiring works by a new generation of artists.
Jump into the future followed Borgmann's donation to the Stedelijk of more than 600 works in 2016, which also included work by fellow gallery artists Isa Genzken and Wolfgang Tillmans. "I have closely followed the Stedelijk ever since my first visit in the 1960s," Borgmann, who is German, said in a statement following the announcement of the donation, "This museum felt like a natural home for these works." Williams's Angola to Vietnam (1989) is highlighted in news of the donation published in Artnet.
September 15–December 2, 2017
Works by Christopher Williams featured in la > x, an exhibition and film festival at the Haubrok Foundation's FAHRBEREITSCHAFT project space to mark the 50th anniversary of the city partnership between Berlin and Los Angeles.
The exhibition included ephemera such as invitations, texts, publications, and posters pertaining to Williams's work.
March 30–July 9, 2017
Three works were included in You Are Looking at Something That Never Occurred, a group exhibition exploring how artists have used the camera to blur boundaries between past and present, fact and fiction. The exhibition also featured works by fellow gallery artists Thomas Ruff and Wolfgang Tillmans.
The title of the exhibition was taken from a conversation between the artists Jeff Wall and Lucas Blalock in which they argue for art that is experimental and mysterious. Drawn exclusively from the Zabludowicz Collection, the works in the exhibition spanned 1977 to the present day.
You Are Looking at Something That Never Occurred was accompanied by a fully illustrated publication with texts by Paul Luckraft and David Campany and a round-table discussion moderated by Chris Wiley featuring Lucas Blalock, Sara Cwynar, and Erin Shirreff. Published by the Zabludowicz Collection
March 1–June 12, 2017
Christopher Williams. Supplements, Models, Prototypes presented recent work by the artist, who is the first participant in the new Visiting Artist program at ETH Zurich University's Department of Architecture.
Supplements, Models, Prototypes was the first exhibition to focus exclusively on exhibition walls, which are a central element of Williams's work. The exhibition presented a group of five walls drawn from prior exhibitions including Christopher Williams: The Production Line of Happiness, the artist's first major museum survey which travelled from The Art Institute of Chicago to The Museum of Modern Art in New York and London's Whitechapel Gallery in 2014-2015.
Williams often intervenes with the architecture of his exhibition spaces. His first installation of a temporary wall was for his 1991 solo exhibition at Galerie Max Hetzler in Cologne, where he had a new wall built directly in front of an existing one.
May 22–24, 2017
The shop window occupies its own genre in photography, from Eugène Atget to Zoe Leonard. In Williams's new theater production Stage Play, the shop window and the storefront are the primary characters. Set in the streets of postwar Düsseldorf, this tense drama deals with the accumulation of contingent material suggestive of the quiet persistence of war.
This was the last in a series of shows by Williams since January 2017 that have engaged different aspects of his work, including collage, architecture, photography, publications, sculpture, and now theater.
Stage Play, Williams's first theater production, was created in dialogue with the artist's concurrent exhibition at gta exhibitions, ETH Zurich.
Exakta Varex IIa
35 mm film SLR camera
Manufactured by Ihagee Kamerawerk Steenbergen & Co,
Dresden, German Democratic Republic?Body serial no.
979625 (Production period: 1960 - 1963)
Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar
50mm f/2.8 lens
Manufactured by VEB Carl Zeiss Jena, Jena, German
Democratic Republic Serial no. 8034351 (Production period: 1967 - 1970)
Model: Christoph Boland
Studio Thomas Borho, Oberkasseler Str. 39, Düsseldorf,
June 22nd, 2012, 2012
April 28–June 25, 2017
Christopher Williams: Models, Open Letters, Prototypes, Supplements presented the artist's work as part of La Triennale di Milano. The exhibition featured photographs combined with staging elements that were used in his recent exhibitions, and explored how these are interconnected within his practice.
Williams's critically-acclaimed 2014-2015 retrospective, The Production Line of Happiness, was exhibited at The Art Institute of Chicago, The Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the Whitechapel Gallery in London.
Recent publications include Christopher Williams: Printed in Germany, and Christopher Williams: The Production Line of Happiness.
April 20–August 13, 2017
The Absent Museum looked back over the history of WIELS and towards its future development in honor of the art center's 10th anniversary. Included were works by gallery artists Francis Alÿs, Marlene Dumas, Isa Genzken, Oscar Murillo, Wolfgang Tillmans, Luc Tuymans, and Christopher Williams.
The Production Line of Happiness, the major survey of work by Christopher Williams, travelled from The Art Institute of Chicago to The Museum of Modern Art in New York and London's Whitechapel Gallery in 2014 – 2015.
The exhibition’s title is borrowed from a 1967 documentary by French director Jean-Luc Godard, in which an amateur filmmaker describes the process of editing his films of the Swiss countryside as "the production line of happiness." In Williams's work, "production" applies not only to the creation of images, but also to how images produce the experiences and objects that are consumed as part of a materialist society. As he explained in an interview with dis magazine during the MoMA exhibition, "An idea that is very interesting to me right now is to adopt a model and stay as closely as possible to that model . . . to inhabit a way of seeing."
In William’s critique, the visual conventions that surround us are co-opted, and often undercut with a vague sense of humor or nostalgia. The Production Line of Happiness included photographs of a bouquet of flowers, a stack of unwrapped Ritter Sport chocolate bars, a dishwasher, dewy red apples, and a model wearing a glib smile and a towel as if fresh from the shower. In the last of these, a Kodak color chart appears on the left of the image as if to expose its workings. In her review for The New York Times, Roberta Smith wrote that the exhibition "conveys the complexity of Mr. Williams's achievement and of art making itself with a wondrous lucidity."
The exhibition was accompanied by two conceptual publications created in collaboration with the artist. The first, entitled The Production Line of Happiness, is equal parts artist's book and exhibition publication, and includes texts by the curators Mark Godfrey, Roxana Marcoci, and Matthew S. Witkovsky. The second, Printed in Germany, is an artist's book extending Williams's ideas into published form. Williams was the first artist to receive the Photography Catalogue of the Year, presented by the Paris Photo–Aperture Foundation PhotoBook Awards, for these publications.
In 2014, Christopher Williams collaborated on the production of publications in conjunction with his first major museum survey, The Production Line of Happiness. This critically acclaimed exhibition traveled from The Art Institute of Chicago to The Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Whitechapel Gallery in London in 2014 – 2015.
Entitled The Production Line of Happiness, the first volume is equal parts artist's book and exhibition publication. Made in cooperation with the museums, the book features texts by the curators Mark Godfrey, Roxana Marcoci, and Matthew S. Witkovsky exploring Williams's engagement with his artistic peers and predecessors, with cinema, and with models of display and publicity in the art world. Also included is the transcript of a talk Williams delivered on the work of John Chamberlain. These more conventional contributions are "interrupted" by additional historical and contemporary materials which were selected by Williams himself and are sometimes presented in facsimile form. An exhibition history, bibliography, and illustrated list of works complete the publication, which has been produced in three colors—yellow, red, and green. Co-published by the Art Institute of Chicago, Museum of Modern Art, and Whitechapel Gallery
Following the exhibition publication which relies more heavily on text than image, Printed in Germany is an artist's book conceived as a stand-alone visual object that extends Williams's conceptual and aesthetic ideas into book form. The publication reproduces a selection of Williams's photographs and features striking graphic design, with no essay, captions, or even a title page. Like The Production Line of Happiness, Printed in Germany has been produced in yellow, red, and green versions. Published by Walther König, Cologne
Williams was the first artist to receive the Photography Catalogue of the Year, presented by the Paris Photo–Aperture Foundation PhotoBook Awards, for The Production Line of Happiness and Printed in Germany.