One of Canadian artist Jeff Wall’s most famous photographs, Dead Troops Talk, is slated for auction Tuesday at Christie's in New York, with an estimated price of up to $2 million US.
The large-format photograph depicts Russian (Red Army) troops killed in the Afghan war sitting up and talking with one another — some laughing, some looking in horror at their injuries. It is one of two prints created by Vancouver-based Wall, according to Christie's.
The auction house estimates the 229 x 417 cm work — the full title of which is Dead Troops Talk (A vision after an ambush of a Red Army patrol, near Moqor, Afghanistan, winter 1986) — could sell for between $1.5 and $2 million US.
Created in 1992, the image has been shown at London's Tate Gallery and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Susan Sontag called it "exemplary in its thoughtfulness and power" in her book Regarding the Pain of Others.
The work is from the private collection of the late David Pincus. The Philadelphia clothing manufacturer bought abstract expressionist paintings and contemporary photography with his wife Geraldine, who is now selling the collection.
A 1961 Rothko the couple bought in 1967 is among the top paintings for sale at Christie's on Tuesday. Orange, Red, Yellow is estimated to sell for between $35 to 45 million US.
Wall's work has regularly fetched prices of more than $1 million US. His 1989 image The Well sold for $1.1 million US at a 2008 Sotheby's sale in London. That same year, another work titled The Forest sold for just over $1 million US at a Sotheby's auction in New York.
Part of the Vancouver school that includes Rodney Graham, Ken Lum and Ian Wallace, Wall is known for creating large scale images that reference moments in history.
Like many of his creations, Dead Troops Talk was staged with actors in a studio. Wall constructed it digitally, with the gore of the injuries made more grotesque by the idea of the dead men talking their wounds with one another.
"I didn't make Dead Troops Talk to comment on the Afghan War. I made it because I wanted to do a picture of dead men conversing. It was a theme or an image or both that occurred spontaneously. I have no idea why," Wall wrote in an essay that accompanied the photo's exhibition at New York's MoMA.
Wall denied that the image is a critique of war, adding that he chose the Afghan War (between Afghanistan and Russia) because it was largely forgotten.
"I could play with elements of journalism and history quite freely because I was in a near-forgotten playground," he wrote.
Wall, 65, received the Audain Prize for Lifetime Achievement — British Columbia's highest award in visual arts — in 2008.