October 11, 2012  |  Collection & Exhibitions
Boy Meets Wall: Hanging Out with Jens S Jensen

Jens S Jensen. Boy on the Wall, Hammarkullen, Gothenburg. 1973. Gelatin silver print, 9 7/16 x 11 3/4″ (24 x 29.8 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of the artist. © 2012 Jens S. Jensen

The first major research trip we undertook for Century of the Child: Growing by Design, 1900–2000 was, appropriately, through the historically child-centric Nordic countries. It was then, in 2009, that we first encountered Jens S Jensen’s 1973 photograph of a boy hanging from a wall (on display at Nordiska Museet in Stockholm—and now in MoMA’s collection), and the image never left our minds.

When it came time to work on the identity of this exhibition, defined first and foremost by the title wall, this depiction of a child’s spontaneous and playful use of an unfriendly space was our first choice. The moment, captured by Jensen in a modernist housing estate in Hammarkullen, Sweden, represents the same kind of tension and mix of tone that give depth to the exhibition itself; the boy, Michael, smiles proudly, his youthful tenacity augmenting his presence within an otherwise bleak architectural context.

Just as Michael intervened unexpectedly in this environment, our graphic designers intervened (with Jensen’s permission) in the original image, using an actual child’s writing to apply the exhibition title in chalk scrawl over the concrete wall, and adding green scribbles over the bushes below.

In the video above, Jensen recounts the story behind this now-iconic photograph, as well as his own background in architecture and other experiences photographing children in Hammarkullen. Jensen’s recent visit to MoMA, to see his work blown up larger than ever before, took place just after another momentous event: last month he tracked down Michael and photographed him with the same wall, 39 years later…

Michael returns to the wall, September 2012. Courtesy of Jens S Jensen