James Welling Biography

Hartford, Connecticut, 1951

James Welling grew up in nearby Simsbury, and as a teenager he frequently visited museums and galleries in New York. From 1969 to 1971 Welling attended Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh, where he studied drawing with Gandy Bodie. In the fall of 1970 he began a series of gray monochrome paintings, as well as a group of outdoor site-specific sculptures. At this time he also made his first black and white photographs - night exposures of Pittsburgh.

In 1971 Welling transferred to the recently formed California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, California. At Cal Arts he worked primarily in video and studied with Michael Asher, John Baldessari, Dan Graham and Wolfgang Stoerchle. Baldessari was an important influence, and from 1973-74 Welling was his teaching assistant. After graduation, Welling began to write reviews for Artweek. He continued to work in video and in 1975 his Ashes was included in the Southland Video Anthology at the Long Beach Museum of Art.

In 1975 Welling started taking color Polaroids using a shutterless camera and long exposures. In order to intensify the colors, he heated the prints during processing. These Polaroids, of his loft and of the restaurant he worked in, were exhibited at the ARCO Center for Visual Art, Los Angeles in 1976.

Following the advice of Matt Mullican, Welling bought a used 4x5 inch view camera. From 1976 to 1978 he made a series of architectural photographs of Los Angeles which he presented as contact prints. In July 1977, Welling began the 'Diary/Landscape' series: details of handwriting from his great-great- grandparents' 184O-41 diaries paired with Connecticut landscapes. He continued to work on this series into the mid-1980s.

After moving to New York in 1978, Welling began to photograph aluminum foil and drapery velvet scattered with pastry dough. These two series of abstract images were exhibited in one person shows at Metro Pictures, New York in 1981 and 1982. Welling's work from this period became part of a larger critical re- evaluation of photography in contemporary art. Friends exploring similar photographic issues included artists Vikky Alexander, Richard Balm, Ellen Brooks, Ellen Carey, James Casebere, Sarah Charlesworth, Barbara Ess, Louise Lawler, Sherrie Levine, Barbara Kruger, Allan McCollum, Richard Prince, Cindy Sherman and Laurie Simmons.

In 1984 Welling was awarded a grant in photography by the New York Foundation for the Arts. The following year he received a National Endowment for the Arts individual artists' grant.

In the mid-1980s Welling made a series of paintings and photographs strongly informed by fractal geometry. They were exhibited in 1986 at the Cash/Newhouse Gallery in the East Village and in 1987 at Feature in Chicago and at Kuhlenschmidt/Simon in Los Angeles. At this time Welling also worked as a freelance photographer for Sotheby's and in the Design Department of the Museum of Modern Art.

Welling returned to his interest in the 19th century (initiated in the 'Diary/Landscape' series) with two series begun in 1987. In 'Architectural Photographs/Buildings by H H Richardson', Welling photographed the stone facades of Richardson's later buildings. The series was exhibited in 1988 at Jay Gorney Modern Art, New York and in 1989 in 'Forest of Signs' at MoCA, Los Angeles. 'Railroad Photographs', railroad landscapes of the eastern United States, were exhibited at 'Documenta IX', Jay Gorney Modern Art; Galerie Nelson, Lyon, France; Donald Young Gallery, Seattle, Washington and Nachst St Stephan, Vienna, Austria.

In 1986 Welling began a series of color photograms made with shadows, titled Degrades. Two years later Welling began photographing drapery with the 20x24 Polaroid camera in New York. These Polaroids and the Degrades were exhibited at Christine Burgin Gallery in New York and in the BiNational at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts.

In October 1987 Welling had his first one person show in Europe at Galerie Samia Saouma, Paris. This trip was the beginning of a creatively rich sequence of projects in France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Belgium and England. In the early 1990s Welling had survey shows at the Kunsthalle Bern, Switzerland; the Musee de Rochechouart, Limoges, France and Kunsternes Hus, Oslo, Norway. Welling completed three book projects during this period: Les Voies Ferrees/St Etienne et la Plaine du Forez, 1990, Usines de Dentelle, 1993, and Wolfsburg, 1994.

In 1992 Welling began the open-ended 'Light Sources', his first series to incorporate a wide range of American and European subjects. Presented as large Iris prints, 'Light Sources' marked Welling's first use of digital technology. The series was shown at Regen Projects, Los Angeles in 1994 and in subsequent gallery exhibitions in New York, Toronto, Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, Vienna, Tokyo and Munich. 'Light Sources' were exhibited in 1998 at the Kunstmuseum Luzern, Luzern, Switzerland and at the Carnegie, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and in 2000 at the Kolnischer Kunstverein in Cologne, Germany. A version of the project was published by Imschoot, uitgevers in 1996.

After teaching at MIT and at Bard College, Welling moved to Los Angeles in 1995 to head the photography area in the Department of Art at UCLA. In Los Angeles Welling began to work with Muse-X, an innovative lab specializing in digital printing.

In 1998 Welling returned to abstraction with 'New Abstractions', a series of enlarged photograms. These were exhibited at the Sprengel Museum in Hanover, Germany and at Regen Projects; Donald Young Gallery, Chicago, Illinois; Galerie Xavier Hufkens, Brussels, Belgium and Gorney, Bravin+Lee, New York. In 1999 Welling was awarded the DG k Forder Prize in Photography for the 'New Abstractions'.


'James Welling: 1974-1999', Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, Ohio, USA, 2000, (traveling)

'The New Abstraction', Sprengel Museum, Hannover, Germany, 1999

'Light Sources', Jay Gorney Modern Art, New York, 1997

Jay Gorney Modern Art, New York, 1988

Johnen & Schuttle, Cologne, Germany, 1988

Arco Center for Visual Art, Los Angeles, USA, 1976


'Heart, Mind, Body, Soul: American Art in the 1990s', Selections from the Permanent Collection, The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1997

'Documenta IX', Kassel, Germany, 1992

Bernd and Hilla Becher, Jeff Wall, James Welling, Stuart Regen Gallery, Los Angles, USA, 1991

'A Forest of Signs: Art in the Crisis of Representation', Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, USA, 1989

'Utopia Post Utopia: Configurations of Nature and Culture in Recent Sculpture and Photography', Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, 1988

Opening Group Exhibition, Metro Pictures, New York, 1980


James Welling, 1974-1999, exhibition catalogue, Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, Ohio, USA, 2000

New Abstractions, exhibition catalogue, Sprengel Museum, Hannover, Germany, 1999

Cotter, Holland, 'James Welling, Early Photographs: 1976ð1985,' The New York Times, New York, USA, October 16, E37, 1998

Squires, Carol, 'James Welling,' Grand Street, 61 (All-American), 160ð68, 1997

Welling, James, Light Sources, Imshoot Uitgevers, Ghent, 1996

James Welling: Wolfsburg, exhibition catalogue, Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, Wolfsburg, Germany, 1994

Documenta IX, exhibition catalogue, Edition Cantz and Harry N. Abrams. Stuttgart and New York, 1992

Trippi, Laura, 'Interview with James Welling,' in Strange Attractors: Signs of Chaos, exhibition catalogue, New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York, 1990

Fairbrother, Trevor, 'Interview with James Welling,' in Bi-National: American Art of the Late 1980s, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, USA, 1988

Johnson, Ken, 'James Welling,' Art in America, USA, (July): 135-36, 1988

Utopia Post Utopia, exhibition catalogue, Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, USA, 1988 Owens, Craig, 'Back to the Studio,' Art in America, USA, January, 1982