Sure, he's not above filling a grave in a Jewish cemetery with fluorescent pink sea urchins (Flooded Grave ), packing an entire basement ceiling with burned-out lightbulbs (After "Invisible Man" by Ralph Ellison, the Prologue ), or reimagining a platoon of slaughtered Russian soldiers in Afghanistan chatting as their innards spill out (Dead Troops Talk ). Those are the kinds of blockbuster photoconceptualist images that made him famous and provide instant shivers to first-time viewers.
The real metaphysics come in Wall's luminescent details, when he's in hyperreal mode. He's like a Martian poet, glossing the earthly everyday with a cosmic eeriness. In Insomnia (1994), possibly the most tweaked-out photograph ever, an empty plastic bottle of dish soap, under flickering kitchen lights, resembles a beckoning angel. A tiny octopus flopped onto a kid's school desk, in An Octopus (1990), somehow summons all the horror in the world. Filthy linoleum roils biblically under a discarded mop in Diagonal Composition No. 3 (2000). And in Sunken Area (1996), the white vinyl siding of a trashy house morphs into abstraction, its glowing lines swooning into the room. It made me dizzy, and I had to sit down. *
Through Jan. 27, 2008
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
151 Third St., SF
Mon.Tues. and Fri.Sun., 11 a.m.5:45 p.m.; Thurs., 10 a.m.8:45 p.m.; $7<\d>$12.50 (free first Tues.)