|Beginning in the early 1980s and first exhibited at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the American Classroom series includes black-and-white photographs of American schools and learning environments. The works are evacuated of human subjects and depict empty classrooms, written text left on chalkboards, or a poignant creative writing story displayed on an early computer; objects are personified and haunt the image-plane, showing residues of human activity. Realism and Illusion from 1995 is a subversive analysis of Disney theme parks in Tokyo, Orlando, Paris and Anaheim. Works in this series such as Gendered House and Southern California Landscapeclosely examine the illusory nature of built environments and the coercive, constricting nature of archetypes, particularly when they originate from a singular gaze driven by American culture.
Two works included in the exhibition from Wagner’s Reparations series traverse the history of the prosthetic splint, responding directly to the circulation of images of war and violence that condition the contemporary present. Moving away from essentializing images of human pain, the artist instead photographs splints and prosthetics from throughout history to show the body as both a resilient and political instrument. The most recent series in the exhibition from 2014, Rome Works, are photographs of galleries and sculptures being conserved and restored at historical institutions such as the Musei Capitolini and Palazzo Altemps. Works such as Artemis/Diana re-contextualize Classical sculpture to puncture conventional narratives of icons. In the photo, a sculpture of the Greek goddess Artemis’ torso is suspended in an electric blue strap, complicating the God of the hunt’s mythological legacy as a woman who could not be tied down.
As a conceptual photographer, Wagner operates in the shared legacy of Lewis Baltz, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Gordon Matta-Clark, Liz Deschenes, Sharon Lockhart and Doris Salcedo, whose works amalgamate varying disciplines and take shape in the photographic form. The artist’s work is in the permanent collections of the Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montreal; de Young Museum, San Francisco; The Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Tate Modern, London.