James Welling has been questioning the norms of representation since the 1970s. His work centers on an exploration of photography, shuffling the elemental components of the medium to produce a distinctly uncompromising body of work. Welling is also intensely interested in cultural and personal ideas of memory in his work. In opening up the medium of photography for experimentation, Welling's practice has influenced an entire generation of artists and photographers.
Welling was born in 1951 in Hartford, Connecticut. He studied at Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh and received his B.F.A. and M.F.A. from the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, California. Since 2005, his work has been represented by David Zwirner. James Welling: Seascape marked his seventh solo presentation at the gallery in 2017.
In 2017, the Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst (S.M.A.K.) in Ghent and the Kunstforum Wien in Vienna co-organized James Welling: Metamorphosis, a traveling solo show encompassing the artist's work from over three decades.
Things Beyond Resemblance: James Welling Photographs, a solo exhibition hosted in 2015 by the Brandywine River Museum of Art in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, presented fifty works from the artist's Wyeth project. The museum also commissioned the artist to create eight site-specific installations, Gradients, which explore the intersection of photography and sculpture. In 2013, a major survey, James Welling: Monograph, was organized by the Cincinnati Art Museum in Ohio and accompanied by a catalogue published by Aperture. The exhibition traveled to the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles. In 2012, James Welling: The Mind on Fire at the MK Gallery in Milton Keynes, England, explored the origin and development of Welling's abstract photographs from the 1980s. The show traveled to the Centro Galego de Arte Contemporánea in Santiago de Compostela, Spain and the Contemporary Art Gallery in Vancouver.
Welling's work has been exhibited widely in the United States and internationally, including solo exhibitions at the Art Institute of Chicago (2014); Fotomuseum Winterthur, Switzerland; University Museum of Contemporary Art, UMASS Amherst, Amherst, Massachusetts (both 2013); Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut (both 2012); Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minnesota (2010); Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels; Art Gallery of York University, Toronto (both 2002); Sprengel Museum Hannover (1999); Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh; and the Kunstmuseum Luzern, Lucerne, Switzerland (both 1998). In 2000, the Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, Ohio organized a major survey of his work, which traveled to the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, and the Baltimore Museum of Art. In 1990, the artist's first museum exhibition was presented by Kunsthalle Bern.
Work by the artist has been extensively included in international group exhibitions, including This Will Have Been: Art, Love & Politics in the 1980s, which was first hosted by the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago in 2012. In 2011, the artist's work was included in Jeff Wall: The Crooked Path, first presented at Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels; in 2009, Welling's work was featured in the critically acclaimed historical survey The Pictures Generation, 1974–1984 at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; and in 2008, he participated in the Whitney Biennial. In 2004, his work was presented in Os anos 80: Uma topologia/The 80s: A Topology at Museu Serralves, Porto, Portugal and Éblouissement at Jeu de Paume, Paris, and in 1992, his work was included in documenta IX.
In 2014, Welling was a recipient of the Infinity Award given by the International Center of Photography, New York and in 2016 he received the Julius Shulman Institute Excellence in Photography Award from Woodbury University, California. From 1995 to 2016, he was Area Head of Photography at UCLA and since 2012 he has been a Lecturer with the Rank of Professor at Princeton University.
The artist's work is held in major museum collections, including the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, Germany; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography; Vancouver Art Gallery; Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. He lives and works in New York.