‘Poor Ass!’ (A Donkey in Blackpool, 1999)

Edwards, Steve (2007). ‘Poor Ass!’ (A Donkey in Blackpool, 1999). Oxford Art Journal, 30(1) pp. 39–54.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/oxartj/kcl026


This essay focuses on Jeff Wall's picture A Donkey in Blackpool, which he made for the exhibition Encounters: New Art from Old, held in 2000 at the National Gallery, London. Beginning from the conjuncture of Wall's photograph with its ostensible model, George Stubbs' painting Whistlejacket (c. 1762), 1 employ historical accounts of English capitalism and attention to pictorial form to explore the patterns of social figuration suggested by these images. While Wall's picture can be seen as a determinate negation of the values put in circulation by Whistejacket, he also employs a procedure of 'metonymic spacing' to exceed this relation. I argue that A Donkey in Blackpool should be seen as one part of a dialectical image (the other half of this contradiction is provided by A Vampires' Picnic (1991)) that illuminates issues of social class and social fixity in late capitalism. The triangulation of these three pictures allows for an engagement with images and social history that avoids weak contextualism. The essay concludes with brief reflections on the artwork as commodity suggested by an encounter with Wall's picture in Basel, Switzerland.

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