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(1944 – 2021), France

Christian Boltanski Biography

French artist Christian Boltanski was known for his sprawling installations dealing with time, memory, separation, death, and the traumatic impact of the Holocaust.

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In addition to thinking of artworks as an invitation for sustained contemplation about the past, Boltanski also believed they had a moral purpose to speak about universal problems. Christian Boltanski's art connected to the intense grief of mass atrocities, civilian deaths, and military conflict—facilitating, it seems, a necessary community catharsis.

Early Life

Boltanski was born in Paris in 1944. His family was affected greatly by the Second World War. His Ukrainian Jewish father spent the entire German occupation hiding under the floorboards of his house, pretending he was divorced and separated from his French wife.

Influence and Processes

Influenced by museology and anthropology, Boltanski began by making sculpture, paintings, books, films, and photographs. He was especially interested in signifiers of the absent and forgotten.

Boltanski collected and recontextualised found images and objects (such as old biscuit tins, articles of discarded clothing, photographs, bells, postcards, or documents) into installations such as the carefully arranged Monument (1984), with 26 photographs of a crumpled red stained cloth, three photos of pale anthracite, and, at the top, one solitary portrait—all illuminated by five light bulbs. Another example is the 1986 installation Leçons de ténèbrés in the Salpêtrière Chapel, Paris, with its lined-up found photographs and lights.

This pattern continued into the following decade with evocatively titled works like Réliquaire (1990), with its stacked tins, found photos, and illuminating lights, or Réserve: Les Suisses Mortes (1991), again with found photographs, and stacked biscuit tins.

Later Work

In his later years, the artist began presenting more unpredictable projects, such as recording human heartbeats for a worldwide archive at Benesse Art Site, Naoshima (2005), and recording letters sent home by WWI soldiers to be listened to on four benches in The Leas, Folkestone, facing the English Channel (2008). Another death-related work Boltanski constructed was After (2017–2018), a huge installation designed for a church and cemetery in Amsterdam, where visitors were recorded in a confessional chair whispering the names of the dead, contributing to a pool of documented sound that can be replayed after the artist's or visitor's death.

One evening in 2009 after a drunken dinner, the inveterate gambler (and millionaire founder of the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) in Tasmania) David Walsh proposed a wager to Boltanski; Walsh would pay the artist an undisclosed sum that included a monthly stipend for the rest of Boltanski's life in return for having his Paris studio fitted with surveillance cameras so that Walsh could watch and film him working. If Boltanski died within eight years, Walsh would receive the footage at a cheaper price. Walsh spent more than he anticipated, for Boltanski outlived Walsh's expectations by several years. However, Walsh now has an invaluable Boltanski archive.

Christiaan Boltanski died in Paris in July 2021.

Exhibitions

Along with his wife Annette Messager, Boltanski rose to fame in the 1970s and 80s, particularly after his first Centre Pompidou exposure in 1982 in group shows, and a succession of exhibitions in events like the Venice Biennale (1980, 1993, 2011), Paris Biennial (1975), Sao Paulo Biennial (1983), Sydney Biennial (1979), and Documenta (1972, 1977). His first exhibition ever was at the Le Ranelagh cinema in 1968.

Boltanski had solo shows in prestigious museums, art spaces, and dealer galleries all over the world, such as the Centre Pompidou, Paris (2019), The Israel Museum, Jerusalem (2018), and the Noguchi Museum, New York (2021). His main agent was Marian Goodman, with whom he exhibited in Paris (2021, 2015), Goodman's Paris library (2019), London (2018), and New York (2007, 2001, 1995, 1991), but he also exhibited with other European dealers like Galleria Lucio Amelio, Naples (1993), Jule Kewenig, Cologne (1993), and early on, Galerie Ghislaine Hussenot, Paris (1989).

John Hurrell | Ocula | 2021

Christian Boltanski Featured Artworks

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Grosse Hamburger Strasse I by Christian Boltanski contemporary artwork sculpture, photography
Christian BoltanskiGrosse Hamburger Strasse I, 2021Photograph, LED light
KEWENIG Enquire
Cachés by Christian Boltanski contemporary artwork print
Christian BoltanskiCachés, 2019Black and white print and silkscreen mounted on Plexiglas
120 x 80 cm
Marian Goodman Gallery Contact Gallery
Cachés by Christian Boltanski contemporary artwork print
Christian BoltanskiCachés, 2019Black and white print and silkscreen mounted on Plexiglas
120 x 80 cm
Marian Goodman Gallery Contact Gallery
Cachés by Christian Boltanski contemporary artwork print
Christian BoltanskiCachés, 2019Black and white print and silkscreen mounted on Plexiglas
120 x 80 cm
Marian Goodman Gallery Contact Gallery
Les Suisses Morts by Christian Boltanski contemporary artwork photography
Christian BoltanskiLes Suisses Morts, 1989200 black and white photographs, lamps and cables
KEWENIG Enquire
La Vie Impossible by Christian Boltanski contemporary artwork works on paper
Christian BoltanskiLa Vie Impossible, 200121 b/w-photographs printed by Muensterschwarzach on high class paper, framed
KEWENIG Enquire

Christian Boltanski Recent Exhibitions

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Christian Boltanski Represented By

KEWENIG contemporary art gallery in Berlin, Germany KEWENIG Berlin, Palma
Marian Goodman Gallery contemporary art gallery in New York, USA Marian Goodman Gallery London, New York, Paris

Christian Boltanski In Ocula Magazine

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Christian Boltanski In Related Press

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Christian Boltanski on mortality, whale sounds and a wager over death with a Tasmanian devil Related Press Christian Boltanski on mortality, whale sounds and a wager over death with a Tasmanian devil 1 April 2018, Wallpaper*

'Where are the cameras?' I ask Christian Boltanski as we enter his studio in Malakoff, just outside Paris. He points out several, all feeding live footage to a grotto in Tasmania's Museum of Old and N

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In her own words: Maria Balshaw, new director of Tate Related Press In her own words: Maria Balshaw, new director of Tate 19 January 2017, The Art Newspaper

As 2016 drew to a close, we asked Maria Balshaw, the director of Manchester Art Galleries and the Whitworth at the University of Manchester, to pick her highlights of the year. Last week, the news lea

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Edinburgh Art Festival 2016 Related Press Edinburgh Art Festival 2016 28 July 2016, Aesthetica Magazine

The UK’s largest annual festival of visual art returns to Edinburgh on 28 July with a dynamic programme of partner exhibitions and pop-up events taking place across the Scottish capital. This year’s Edinburgh Art Festival (EAF) is set to be its biggest edition to date, and will include 43 solo and group presentations curated by the...

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Art Brussels announces details of Discovery, Rediscovery and Solo sections Related Press Art Brussels announces details of Discovery, Rediscovery and Solo sections 9 April 2016, Art Fix Daily

From April 21 to 24, the 34th edition of Art Brussels will take place in a new location, Tour & Taxis, a spectacular example of industrial architecture built in 1904, formerly a customs house. This year, the fair has been reduced in size, bringing together 141 galleries from 28 countries, represented in three main sections: PRIME, DISCOVERY and...

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