The Museum of Modern Art presents Christopher Williams: The Production Line of Happiness, the first retrospective devoted to the 35-year career of Christopher Williams (American, b. 1956), one of the most influential cinephilic artists working in photography. The exhibition brings together outstanding works that engage the conventions of photojournalism, picture archives, and commercial imagery within their sociopolitical contexts. Williams has pursued an artistic direction that examines the theoretical and political history of photography within the larger context of image production. On view from July 27 through November 2, 2014, the exhibition includes some 100 photographs as well as video and film works and architectural interventions. Christopher Williams: The Production Line of Happiness is organized at MoMA by Roxana Marcoci, Senior Curator, with Lucy Gallun, Assistant Curator, Department of Photography. Organized by MoMA in collaboration with The Art Institute of Chicago, the exhibition travels to Whitechapel Gallery, London, in spring 2014; it was previously on view at AIC.
Williams studied at the California Institute of the Arts from the mid to late 1970s under the first wave of West Coast Conceptual artists, including Michael Asher, John Baldessari, and Douglas Huebler, only to become one of his generation’s leading Conceptualists and art professors; he is currently professor of photography at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf. Deeply invested in the histories of photography and film, Williams has produced a concise oeuvre that furthers a critique of a late capitalist society, in which images typically function as agents of spectacle. For the title of this exhibition, Williams has taken a line from Marcel, a documentary by French director Jean-Luc Godard made in collaboration with Anne-Marie Miéville, in which an amateur filmmaker compares his daily job as a factory worker with his hobby of editing his films of the Swiss countryside, describing the latter as “the production line of happiness.” In Williams’s hands the phrase appears to refer to the function of much photography in postwar consumer society, in which it not only pictures but also produces so many experiences and objects to be consumed.
The Production Line of Happiness begins with an installation of extensive vinyl “supergraphics” covering the walls outside the exhibition space. These supergraphics—black letters on a red oversaturated AGFA color ground—feature elements culled from the exhibition catalogue, such as the checklist, graphics, and selected writings, so that the exhibition appears to unfold from the book.
One salient aspect of the MoMA installation is the display of walls culled from previous exhibitions, foregrounding Williams’s long-standing engagement with architecture and the history of display. The walls chosen for this installation include: a mobile wall with trolley and a mobile wall on a platform, both from Williams’s exhibition at The Art Institute of Chicago; wall fragments from the previous MoMA exhibitions Home Delivery: Fabricating the Modern Dwelling and Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926–1938; and the reconstruction of a wall from the 1958 exhibition Jackson Pollock at Whitechapel Gallery, London. In this way, Williams brings into the MoMA installation building components from the three venues of his exhibition The Production Line of Happiness in Chicago, New York, and London, while also revealing that each image is connected to a broader architectural context and ideas.
Continue reading in Art Daily