Boltanski in the “recomposed past”



Signs reading “START” at the entrance to the exhibition and “FINISH” at the exit somewhat enigmatically suggest that visitors should experience the show as a voyage from one place to another (possibly, even, from birth to death… also suggested by the show’s title “Faire son temps”). Gallery 1 of the Pompidou Center in Paris will be hosting the exhibition from November 13 to March 16, 2020. Meanwhile… in Tokyo, Boltanski’s work has been the subject of two exhibitions: one at the National Art Center (ended 2 September) and another at the Espace Louis Vuitton (until 17 November).

Christian BOLTANSKI (1944) left school quite young and started self-training in the arts as of 1958. In the late 1960s, he dropped painting to explore other modes of expression such as his now famous Archives (literally files elaborated from materials such as photographs, cardboard boxes, found objects, clothes, etc.) and experiments mixing video and cinema. These earlier works already posited a powerful fusion between his personal life and his creativity and it is perhaps that “Individual Mythology” (title of a section of Documenta V [1972]), that best characterizes Boltanski’s work pushing the notions of memory, amnesia and absence to their artistic extremes.

Praised in France for his installation under the glass dome of the Grand Palais for the 2010 Monumenta show, and, the following year, representing France at the Venice Biennale, Christian Boltanski’s secondary market prices spiked as New York collectors became more interested in his work than French collectors. His best-ever auction result was hammered at Christie’s in 2006 for a late1980s work titled Le reliquaire that fetched $130,000.

From roughly the same period, hiMonument to the Lycée Chases  and Shadows from the lessons of darkness, works dealing with childhood, also fetched among his best results. Since 2011, his more recent works have elicited less demand; in a 2013 interview with Laure Adler on France Culture, Christian Boltanski declared I guess I no longer create works that could be hung on someone’s wall. Henceforward the scale and format of Boltanski’s work was more in line with his self-vision as a historian of himself and others, but also as a geographer of the here and elsewhere. A number of his installations seem to play with this idea of ubiquity such as his Les Archives du Coeur on the island of Teshima in Japan, a sort of conservatory where the heartbeats of the artist and those of 180,000 visitors can be heardor the improbable Dernières années de CB, a live video of Boltanskis workshop in Malakoff (Paris), relayed to a cave in Tasmania. In 2009, Tasmanian billionaire David Walsh agreed to pay Boltanski a monthly stipend until his death. The agreed value of the work was calculated as eight years of the monthly payment… so if Boltanski had died before the end of the 8-year period, Walsh – a keen gambler – would have acquired the work for below its agreed value. However, Boltanski – otherwise obsessed with deathhas survived until now… and seems to have won the Tasmanian collector’s gamble!

Conceived by the artist, Boltanski’s Parisian exhibition is a sort of retrospective thirty-five years after the artist’s first exhibition at the Pompidou Center. A somewhat labyrinthine layout, with no particular path, the show allows visitors to contemplate fifty of his most emblematic pieces, from the 1970s to the most recent, from the smallest formats to the enormous installations of recent years: Vitrines de references, receptacles mixing personal objects and archaeological artifacts, … reliquariesalters… Théâtres d’ombres where the dancing reflection of the puppets evokes the universe of forgotten legends and myths. We move from narrow, confined rooms, in which we have no choice but to become a part of the works, into darker and more meditative spaces in which the light comes from the installations themselves.

In fact, the exhibited works, the installations and the visitors themselves form a sort of large-scale artwork; Boltanski likes the idea of breaking down the boundaries between the public and the works: For me, he says, it is very important today that we are not in front of something… but in something”.