‘Dead Troops Talk’ Goes for $3.6 Million

Canadian artist Jeff Wall’s famed large-format Dead Troops Talk went for $3.6 million at Christie’s New York this week, making the work the most expensive Canadian photo ever sold at auction.

The original estimate was $1.5 to $2 million for the 90  x 164″ work,  Dead Troops Talk (A vision after an ambush of a Red Army patrol, near Moqor, Afghanistan, winter 1986).  The Vancouver artist staged the scene in 1992.  It depicts  Soviet Red Army soldiers killed by the Afghan mujahideen coming back to life and talking with each other.

His work regularly sells in the six figures. The 1989 image The Well (above) fetched $1.1 million in 2008 and The Forest sold for just over $1 million US at a Sotheby’s auction in New York.  The MoMA in New York has an excellent multimedia project about Jeff Wall, here.

15 replies »

  1. This post is very interesting. Like others I am amazed at the price it went for. Maybe I understand or can see why the top one got so much, but the bottom one looks like something anyone could do. I will read the link you included about his work, which will probably shed light on it.


    • I think there was some anticipation that it would go for a high price, because he’s so well known and it’s such an iconic piece. But I also believe I read that it exceeded estimates, so your point is well taken.


    • Yes stunningly macabre and difficult to look at, and very powerful. It’s interesting you raise Mapplethorpe, because both he and Jeff Wall are known for being so provocative – to make their points by slamming the point in your face (Mapplethorpe with S&M, Wall with war). But I agree that’s a huge amount of money.


    • Great question. It’s a famous work. It was set and shot in parts, then manipulated digitally into a whole. It’s absolutely a work of art, which is one of the reasons it fetched so much. It’s widely heralded, not just in Canada, as a work that many believe is in the category of some of the great master painters’ visions of war. And the “manufacture” of the work is always part of what people think is its brilliance. So it may be that the word “photograph” is the stumbling block. If you consider it just an art work, maybe it doesn’t raise the same issues. There’s a good piece on the construction and meaning here:


        • I liked the question. It’s one that a group of us in my newsroom were discussing today. I don’t know exactly how I feel about it. It’s one of those . . . on the one hand/on the other hand. And I”m not great at those issues. I like black and white, which drives my family and friends crazy.


          • Ahha – Black and White for art photographs, always:)

            I think your comment earlier that it is calling the work a photograph that clouds the staging issue for me. If it were a painting, we’d think nothing of it, would we?

            Nonetheless, it fetched an extraordinarily high price – was it a museum collection or private, do you know?


    • I know, that’s a lot of auction money, no? But he’s very well known and sought after, so that’s what the market decreed. Appreciate your comment, a good one.


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