Christian Boltanski

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Christian Boltanski
Christian Boltanski (UNTREF - Bienal Sur 2016) (cropped).jpg
Boltanski in 2016
Born(1944-09-06)6 September 1944
Died14 July 2021(2021-07-14) (aged 76)
Paris, France
Known forSculpture, painting, photography, installation art
MovementConceptual art

Christian Liberté Boltanski (6 September 1944 – 14 July 2021) was a French sculptor, photographer, painter, and film maker. He is best known for his photography installations and contemporary French conceptual style.[1]

Early life[edit]

Boltanski was born in Paris on 6 September 1944.[2][3] His father, Étienne Alexandre Boltanski,[4] a physician, was Jewish and had come to France from Russia, while Marie-Elise Ilari-Guérin, his Roman Catholic mother originated from Corsica, descended from Ukrainian Jews.[5] His Jewish heritage was a large influence in Boltanski's household. During World War II, while living in Paris, his father escaped deportation by hiding in a space under the floorboards of the family apartment for a year and a half. Christian grew up with this knowledge, and his early experiences with wartime affairs deeply affected him. These experiences would influence his artwork later on.[6][7][8] He dropped out of school at age 12.

Early career[edit]

Boltanski began creating art in the late 1950s, but did not rise to prominence until almost a decade later through a few short, avant-garde films and some published notebooks in which he referenced his childhood.[9] He had his first one-man exhibition at the Théâtre Le Ranelagh in May 1968.[2][3] His earliest works included imagery of ideal families and imaginary lifestyles (something Boltanski always lacked), made to display as if they were in museums.[3]

Installation art[edit]

Le Lycée Chases (1986-1987) at the Rubell Museum DC in 2022

Boltanski began creating mixed media/materials installations in 1986 with light as essential concept. Tin boxes, altar-like construction of framed and manipulated[10] photographs (e.g. Le Lycée Chases, 1986–1987), photographs of Jewish schoolchildren taken in Vienna in 1931,[11] used as a forceful reminder of mass murder of Jews by the Nazis, all those elements and materials used in his work are used in order to represent deep contemplation regarding reconstruction of past. While creating Reserve (exhibition at Museum für Gegenwartskunst in Basel in 1989), Boltanski filled rooms and corridors with worn clothing items as a way of inciting profound sensation of human tragedy at concentration camps. As in his previous works, objects serve as relentless reminders of human experience and suffering.[12] His piece, Monument (Odessa), uses six photographs of Jewish students in 1939 and lights to resemble Yahrzeit candles to honor and remember the dead. "My work is about the fact of dying, but it's not about the Holocaust itself."[13] In 1971 Boltanski produced his installation, L' Album de la famille D. 1939-1964.[14]

Additionally, his enormous installation titled "No Man's Land" (2010) at the Park Avenue Armory in New York City, is a great example of how his constructions and installations trace the lives of the lost and forgotten.[15]


Boltanski participated in over 150 art exhibitions throughout the world.[16] Among others, he had solo exhibitions at the New Museum (1988), the Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein, Magasin 3 in Stockholm, the La Maison Rouge gallery, Institut Mathildenhöhe, the Kewenig Galerie, The Musée d'Art et d'Histoire du Judaïsme, and many others.[16]

In 2002, Boltanski made the installation Totentanz II, a shadow installation with copper figures, for the underground Centre for International Light Art (CILA) in Unna, Germany.[17] Nine years later, the Es Baluard museum in Mallorca exhibited Signatures from July to September 2011. The installation was conceived by Boltanski specifically for Es Baluard and which is focused on the memory of the workers who in the 17th century built the museum's walls.[18][19]

In the winter of 2017–2018, Boltanski created a new installation for the Oude Kerk, titled After. It tackled the theme of what will come after life has come to an end. The exhibition was shown from November 2017 until April 2018.[20]

Personal life[edit]

Boltanski was married to Annette Messager, who is also a contemporary artist, until his death. They chose not to have children.[2] They lived in Malakoff, outside Paris. He was the brother of sociologist Luc Boltanski and uncle of writer Christophe Boltanski.[21]

Boltanski died on 14 July 2021 at Hôpital Cochin in Paris. He was 76, and suffered from an unspecified illness prior to his death.[2][22]

Following his death, the artist’s moral rights — which prerogatives are the right of disclosure, the right of respect of the works’ integrity and the right to

authorship - were passed on to Angelika Markul.



Works and installations[edit]

  • 1969 "L'Homme qui tousse"[26]
  • 1973 "Inventory of Objects Belonging to a Young Man of Oxford"[27]
  • 1988 "Christian Boltanski: Lessons of Darkness"[28]
  • 1989 Monument to the Lycée Chases[29]
  • 1990 "Reserve of Dead Swiss (Réserve de Suisses morts)"[30]
  • 2002 "Totentanz II"[17]
  • 2010 "No Man's Land"[31]
  • 2010: "People (Personnes)"[32]
  • 2014 "Animitas"[33]
  • 2017 "After"[20]
  • 2017 "Mysteries"[34]


  1. ^ "Christian Boltanski | artnet". Retrieved 22 July 2016.
  2. ^ a b c d "Top contemporary French artist Christian Boltanski dies aged 76". France 24. Agence France-Presse. 14 July 2021. Retrieved 14 July 2021.
  3. ^ a b c d e f "Christian Boltanski (1944–2021)". Artforum. 14 July 2021. Retrieved 14 July 2021.
  4. ^ Boltanski, Christophe (19 August 2015). La cache. ISBN 9782234076747.
  5. ^ Genzlinger, Neil (17 July 2021). "Christian Boltanski, Whose Art Installations Dazzled, Dies at 76". New York Times. Vol. 170, no. 59122. p. B12. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 17 July 2021.
  6. ^ Christian Boltanski au Grand Palais, 12 January 2012, accessed 26 June 2019
  7. ^ BoltanskiBUENOS AIRES, bio(graphy), on the website of the 2012 project, accessed 26 June 2019
  8. ^ Christian Boltanski: Documentation and Reiteration, Guggenheim Museum, accessed 26 June 2019
  9. ^ "Christian Boltanski, 'The Reserve of Dead Swiss' 1990". Tate. Retrieved 22 July 2016.
  10. ^ Borger, Irene. "Christian Boltanski". BOMB Magazine. Archived from the original on 16 April 2013. Retrieved 15 May 2013. IB: This touches on the newer work, you have rephotographed and enlarged a portrait of a high school class, in such a way that the information in the pictures is no longer very specific and detailed. You're really asking the spectator to fill it in. CB: You mean the Lycee Chases? CB The less information you have, the more open the work, the more you can think about it.
  11. ^ "Exchange: Monument to the Lycée Chases". Retrieved 10 November 2020.
  12. ^ Christian Boltanski: About this artist, Oxford University Press
  13. ^ Monument (Odessa) Jewish Museum
  14. ^ "Christian Boltanski". Retrieved 31 July 2022.
  15. ^ McAdams, Shane (8 July 2010). "CHRISTIAN BOLTANSKI No Man's Land". The Brooklyn Rail (July–August 2010).
  16. ^ a b "Christian Boltanski biography" (PDF). Marian Goodman gallery.[permanent dead link]
  17. ^ a b Baumgardner, Julie (31 July 2014). "Everything Is Illuminated: Meet Germany's Centre for International Light Art". Art in America. Retrieved 14 July 2021.
  18. ^ "Christian Boltanski Describes 'Signatures'". Es Baluard. Retrieved 14 July 2021.
  19. ^ Díaz-Guardiola, Javier (7 July 2011). "Boltanski: "Artista es el que provoca emociones"". ABC. Madrid. Retrieved 14 July 2021. (in Spanish)
  20. ^ a b "Christian Boltanski". Wall Street International. 19 December 2017. Retrieved 14 July 2021.
  21. ^ Bridenne, Miriam (3 September 2015). "La Cache". New York City: Albertine. Retrieved 14 July 2021.
  22. ^ "L'artiste plasticien Christian Boltanski est mort". Le Monde. 14 July 2021. Retrieved 14 July 2021.
  23. ^ "Kunstpreis Aachen". Stadt Aachen. Retrieved 14 July 2021.
  24. ^ "Christian Boltanski (1944–2021)". Artforum. 14 July 2021. Archived from the original on 14 July 2021. Retrieved 17 July 2021.
  25. ^ "L'Homme qui tousse". Centre Pompidou. Retrieved 14 July 2021. (in French)
  26. ^ "Inventory of Objects Belonging to a Young Man of Oxford: Christian Boltanski". Modern Art Oxford. Retrieved 14 July 2021.
  27. ^ Brenson, Michael (9 December 1988). "Review/Art: Mechanics of Memory". New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 17 July 2021.
  28. ^ "Monument to the Lycée Chases". University of Michigan Museum of Art. Retrieved 14 July 2021.
  29. ^ "Réserve de Suisses morts, 1991". Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art. Retrieved 14 July 2021.
  30. ^ Spears, Dorothy (9 May 2010). "Exploring Mortality With Clothes and a Claw". The New York Times. Retrieved 14 July 2021.
  31. ^ Cumming, Laura (17 January 2010). "Christian Boltanski: Personnes". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 14 July 2021.
  32. ^ "Christian Boltanski, Animitas". Noguchi Museum. Retrieved 14 July 2021.
  33. ^ "Mysteries, by Christian Boltanski". Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes. Archived from the original on 17 July 2021. Retrieved 17 July 2021.

Further reading[edit]

  • Tamar Garb, Didier Semin, Donald Kuspit, "Christian Boltanski", Phaidon, London, 1997.
  • Bracha L. Ettinger, Matrix et le Voyage à Jerusalem de C.B. [Conversation/Interview with Christian Boltanski 1989, 60 portrait photographs of C.B next to his works in his studio, by BRACHA, 1990, and notebook fragments 1985-1989]. Artist's book. Paris: BLE Atelier, 1991.
  • Lynn Gumpert and Mary Jane Jacob, "Christian Boltanski: Lessons of Darkness," Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art, 1988.
  • Didier Semin, "Christian Boltanski," Paris, Art Press, 1988.
  • Nancy Marmer, "Christian Boltanski: The Uses of Contradiction," "Art in America," October 1989, pp. 168–181, 233–235.
  • Lynn Gumpert, "Christian Boltanski," Paris, Flammarion, 1984.

External links[edit]