Skip to main content
image alt

Alfredo Jaar

May 1, 2011


image alt

Taking as its point of departure one of the most widely publicized media images in recent history, May 1, 2011 activates critical reflection about the various ways such documentary images generate meaning. The official White House photograph, which the artist Alfredo Jaar shows on a large-scale monitor on the right, was extensively and globally transmitted on May 1, 2011, the day US forces raided the compound of the al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. It shows President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, and members of Obama’s national security team in the White House Situation Room, apparently watching footage of the raid. However, what they see is not visible to the viewer. The adjacent monitor to the left is simply white, alluding perhaps to the inability of the viewer (and the public in general) to witness the actual action of the raid. The drawn “label” accompanying the right screen identifies the people in the photograph, while the one beside the left screen is blank, a page onto which to project one’s own imaginary images or recollections. Jaar’s decision to project the still images on flat-screen TV panels implicates time into the installation. While the photograph brings back political histories of violence and terror, the blank screen serves as a space for subjective engagement—with what and how one remembers, and with the impact of this trauma on American politics and identity. At the same time, the installation as a whole raises questions about the documentary or ideological value of images and their relation to individual and collective knowledge, since we are today, like the American population in 2011, asked to believe without seeing. Jaar here takes on the role of the artist-as-historian, creating a new kind of history painting that, like its historical predecessors, is positioned between documentation and aestheticization, visualizing a traumatic moment in recent American history. [Exhibition brochure text, 2014]

  • Artist Alfredo Jaar (Chilean, b. 1956)
  • Title May 1, 2011
  • Date 2011
  • Medium Two LCD monitors and two digital prints
  • Edition description 2/3
  • Dimensions framed | 15 1/2 x 19 1/4 x 1 1/2 in. each
    overall | 28 x 210 in.
  • Credit line Official White House photograph by Pete Souza Gift of Bunny and Charles Burson, 2018
  • Object number WU 2018.0007 a-d

In the Aftermath of Trauma: Contemporary Video Installations
Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Washington University in St. Louis, 01/31/2014 - 04/20/2014

Bunny and Charles Burson (Snowmass Village, CO / formerly St. Louis)

This artwork record may be incomplete or need refinement. Our staff actively researches the collection and revises records when new information is available. If you have questions or comments about this record, please contact us.