Christian Boltanski - Artist of Memory

The work of the French artist Christian Boltanski centres on the theme of memory. Born in 1944 in German-occupied Paris to a Jewish-Ukrainian father and a Catholic Corsican mother, the memory of the Holocaust has been a defining influence on Boltanski’s life. His own childhood and past, transience, and the human attempt to resist forgetting and being forgotten are among his work’s recurring motifs. Throughout his career, Boltanski has explored the memories embodied by people and things. An originator of the conceptual art movement known as “Spurensicherung” (“Conserving Traces”),

Boltanski is one of the world’s most renowned artists. His work has been exhibited three times at documenta in Kassel. At the fifty-fourth Venice Art Biennale (2011), he turned the entire French pavilion at into an installation. Boltanski’s works are exhibited in some of the world’s most important art collections, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Tate in London and the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris.

At the Völklinger Hütte World Heritage Site, Boltanski has created a memorial to the forced labourers who worked there. The result is an emotional work of art that keeps the memory of these people alive. During his visit to the Völklinger Hütte World Heritage Site, Boltanski was also inspired by the daily work once performed there by the ironworkers. He has dedicated a temporary installation entitled "Erinnerungen | Souvenirs | Memories” to these people and their emotions.

Christian Boltanski transforms memory into art. His installations centre on objects that embody memories or evoke certain associations, such as the piles of old clothes exhibited as part of an installation at the Grand Palais in Paris. Boltanski draws on the form and structure of the archive – a place where memories are traditionally stored. “Right from the beginning, I felt that a photo of a person, a used item of clothing, a heartbeat, a corpse all have the same value – they all capture an absence,” he explains. For Boltanski, it is unimportant whether his installations convey historical or fictional biographies. In examining the symbolic value of objects, Boltanski creates an aesthetic form of remembering that deeply moves the visitor. 

Christian Boltanski: Installations | Awards • a selection

1999: “Archive of German Members of Parliament”, Reichstag Building, Berlin

2006: Boltanski is awarded the Praemium Imperiale, a major international prize often described as the “Nobel Prize for the Arts”.

Since 2008: “Les Archives du coeur”, an installation featuring recordings of the heartbeats of hundreds of thousands of people, Teshima, Japan

2010: “Personnes”, an installation featuring 200,000 old items of clothing, Grand Palais, Paris

2011: “Chance”, installation, French pavilion, fifty-fourth Biennale di Venezia, Venice

2018: Storage Memory, Power Station of Art, Shanghai; first major solo exhibition in China

Boltanski has appeared several times in the Kunstkompass rankings of the ten most important contemporary artists in the world.



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