Jump to content

Sophie Calle

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Sophie Calle
Calle in 2015
Born9 October 1953 (1953-10-09) (age 70)
Paris, France
Known forConceptual art, installation art
Sophie Calle (left) and Alexandra Cohen

Sophie Calle (born 9 October 1953)[1] is a French writer, photographer, installation artist, and conceptual artist.[2] Calle's work is distinguished by its use of arbitrary sets of constraints, and evokes the French literary movement known as Oulipo. Her work frequently depicts human vulnerability, and examines identity and intimacy. She is recognized for her detective-like tendency to follow strangers and investigate their private lives. Her photographic work often includes panels of text of her own writing.[3]

Since 2005, Calle has taught as a professor of film and photography at European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, Switzerland. She has lectured at the University of California, San Diego in the Visual Arts Department.[4] She has also taught at Mills College in Oakland, California.

Exhibitions of Calle's work took place at the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris;[2] Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia;[5] Musée d'Art et d'Histoire du Judaïsme, Paris;[6] Paula Cooper Gallery, New York; Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, Belgium; Videobrasil, SESC Pompeia, São Paulo, Brazil; Museum of Modern Art of Bahia, Salvador, Brazil; Whitechapel Gallery, London;[2] and the De Pont Museum of Contemporary Art, Tilburg, Netherlands.[7] She represented France at the Venice Biennale in 2007.[2]

In 2017 she was shortlisted for the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize for her publication My All (Actes Sud, 2016).[8][9] In 2019 she was the recipient of the Royal Photographic Society's Centenary Medal and Honorary Fellowship.



In Suite Venitienne (1979), Calle followed a man she met at a party in Paris to Venice, where she disguised herself and followed him around the city, photographing him. Calle's surveillance of the man, who she identifies only as Henri B., includes black and white photographs accompanied by text.[10]

Calle's first artistic work was The Sleepers (Les Dormeurs), a project in which she invited passers-by to occupy her bed.[11] Some were friends, or friends of friends, and some were strangers to her. She served them food and photographed them every hour.

In order to execute her project The Hotel (1981), she was hired as a chambermaid at a hotel in Venice where she was able to explore the writings and objects of the hotel guests.[12] Insight into her process and its resulting aesthetic can be gained through her account of this project: "I spent one year to find the hotel, I spent three months going through the text and writing it, I spent three months going through the photographs, and I spent one day deciding it would be this size and this frame...it's the last thought in the process."[13]

Mid- and late 1980s[edit]

One of Calle's first projects to generate public controversy was Address Book (1983). The French daily newspaper Libération invited her to publish a series of 28 articles. Having recently found an address book on the street (which she photocopied and returned to its owner), she decided to call some of the telephone numbers in the book and speak with the people about its owner. To the transcripts of these conversations, Calle added photographs of the man's favorite activities, creating a portrait of a man she never met, by way of his acquaintances. The articles were published, but upon discovering them, the owner of the address book, a documentary filmmaker named Pierre Baudry, threatened to sue the artist for invasion of privacy. As Calle reports, the owner discovered a nude photograph of her, and demanded the newspaper publish it, in retaliation for what he perceived to be an unwelcome intrusion into his private life.

Another of Calle's noteworthy projects is titled The Blind (1986), for which she interviewed blind people, and asked them to define beauty. Their responses were accompanied by her photographic interpretation of their ideas of beauty, and portraits of the interviewees.[14]

Calle has created elaborate display cases of birthday presents given to her throughout her life; this process was detailed by Grégoire Bouillier in his memoir The Mystery Guest: An Account (2006). According to Bouillier, the premise of his story was that "A woman who has left a man without saying why calls him years later and asks him to be the 'mystery guest' at a birthday party thrown by the artist Sophie Calle. And by the end of this fashionable—and utterly humiliating—party, the narrator figures out the secret of their breakup."[15]


In 1996, Calle asked Israelis and Palestinians from Jerusalem to take her to public places that became part of their private sphere, exploring how one's personal story can create an intimacy with a place. Inspired by the eruv, the Jewish law that permits to turn a public space into a private area by surrounding it with wires, making it possible to carry objects during the Sabbath, the Erouv de Jérusalem is exposed at Paris's Musée d'Art et d'Histoire du Judaïsme.

The same year, Calle released a film titled No Sex Last Night which she created in collaboration with American photographer Gregory Shephard. The film documents their road trip across America, which ends in a wedding chapel in Las Vegas. Rather than following the genre conventions of a road trip or a romance, the film is designed to document the result of a man and woman who barely knew each other, embarking on an intimate journey together.

Calle asked writer and filmmaker Paul Auster to "invent a fictive character which I would attempt to resemble"[16] and served as the model for the character Maria in Auster's 1992 novel Leviathan. This mingling of fact and fiction so intrigued Calle that she created the works of art created by the fictional character, which included a series of color-coordinated meals. These works are documented in her publication Double Game (1999).[17]

Auster later challenged Calle to create and maintain a public amenity in New York City. The artist's response was to augment a telephone booth on the corner of Greenwich and Harrison Streets in Manhattan with a note pad, a bottle of water, a pack of cigarettes, flowers, cash, and sundry other items. Every day, Calle cleaned the booth and restocked the items, until the telephone company removed and discarded them. This project is documented in The Gotham Handbook (1998).[16]

In 1999 Calle exhibited the installation "Appointment" especially conceived for the Freud Museum in London, working with the ideas of her private desires. In Room with a View (2002), Calle spent the night in a bed installed at the top of the Eiffel Tower. She invited people to come to her and read her bedtime stories in order to keep her awake through the night. The same year, Calle had her first one-woman show, a retrospective, at the Musée National d'Art Moderne at Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris.[2]


"Douleur Exquise" (exquisite pain) was commissioned in 2003. She reluctantly chose to spend three months in Japan, deciding to make the journey take a month by taking the train through Moscow and through Siberia, then through Beijing, then to Hong Kong. She was supposed to meet her lover in New Delhi, but he didn't turn up, instead sending her a telegram which said he was in an accident and couldn't come. She found out that he only had an infected finger, a felon, and that he had actually found another woman. She took a photograph every day until the day they were supposed to meet in New Delhi, and wrote about how much she looked forward to meeting him. The second half of the book was all about the pain of the heartbreak. She would write about the horrible memory of the conversation where she realized he was breaking up with her on one page, and ask people to tell her their worst memory, which was placed on the right. Over the days, her story became shorter and shorter as her pain dissipated over the time. The juxtaposition of everyone's terrible memories also played down the pain of a simple breakup.

Calle's text Exquisite Pain was adapted into a performance in 2004 by Forced Entertainment, a theatrical company based in Sheffield, England.

At the 2007 Venice Biennale, Calle showed her piece Take Care of Yourself, named after the last line of the email her ex sent her.[18] Calle asked friends, acquaintances, and recommended women of all ages—including a parrot and a hand puppet—to interpret the break-up e-mail and presented the results in the French pavilion.[19] Calle explains the piece as follows: "I received an email telling me it was over. I didn't know how to respond. It was almost as if it hadn't been meant for me. It ended with the words, 'take care of yourself.' And so I did. I asked 107 women, chosen for their profession or skills, to interpret this letter. To analyze it, comment on it, dance it, sing it. Exhaust it. Understand it for me. Answer for me. It was a way of taking the time to break up. A way of taking care of myself."[20] Jessica Lott, winner of the Frieze Writer's Prize for her review of the piece, described it thus: "Take Care of Yourself is a break-up letter (Calle's) then-boyfriend (Grégoire Bouillier, dubbed ‘X’) sent her via e-mail. Calle took the e-mail, and the paralyzing confusion that accompanies the mind's failure to comprehend heartbreak, and distributed it to 107 women of various professions, skills and talents to help her understand it – to interpret, analyze, examine and perform it to gain perspective on her perplexing situation. Calle insists that she did not need the other women's sentiments for herself, but to ensure that the piece was well-rounded.[19] The result of this seemingly obsessive, schoolyard exercise is paradoxically one of the most expansive and telling pieces of art on women and contemporary feminism to pass through (the major art centres) in recent years".[19][21] At her gallery shows, Calle frequently supplies suggestion forms on which visitors are encouraged to furnish ideas for her art, while she sits beside them with an uninterested expression.

In 2009/2010, a major retrospective exhibition of her work, including Take Care of Yourself, The Sleepers, Address Book and others, was held opened at the Whitechapel Gallery in London.[2] In 2010 another major exhibition opened in Denmark at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art.[22]


In 2011 her work True Stories was installed at the historic 1850 House at the Pontalba Building at Jackson Square in the French Quarter of New Orleans, Louisiana as part of the Prospect 2 Contemporary Art Festival. The house, an historic museum that is managed as part of the Louisiana State Museum, is furnished with historic furniture as it was in the mid-19th century. The artist inserted her own, personal historical objects and ephemera, with short, narrative explanatory text, into the scenes, affecting the notion that she had occupied the house shortly before the viewers' arrival.

In 2012, Calle's The Address Book was published for the first time in its entirety. In 2015, Suite Vénitienne was redesigned and republished.

In 2014, Calle’s work Rachel, Monique was displayed at the Episcopal Church of Heavenly Rest in New York City. It involved video Calle took of her mother, Monique Sindler, on her deathbed, as well as excerpts of her diary, read by actress Kim Cattrall.[23] Calle took her mother’s portrait and jewelry and buried them at the North Pole. Portraits of her doing so were also on exhibition.[24]

In 2017, Calle was commissioned to create a public artwork for Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, Here Lie the Secrets of the Visitors of Green-Wood Cemetery.[25] The piece will remain in the cemetery for 25 years.

Critical analysis[edit]

Christine Macel described Calle's work as a rejection of the Poststructuralist notion of the "death of the author" by working as a "first-person artist" who incorporates her life into her works and, in a way, redefines the idea of the author.[26]

Angelique Chrisafis, writing in The Guardian, called her "the Marcel Duchamp of emotional dirty laundry".[27] She was among the names in Blake Gopnik's 2011 list "The 10 Most Important Artists of Today", with Gopnik arguing, "It is the unartiness of Calle's work—its refusal to fit any of the standard pigeonholes, or over anyone's sofa—that makes it deserve space in museums."[28]



Significant contributions by other authors are noted.

  • Suite Vénitienne. Paris: Editions de l'Etoile, 1983. ISBN 9782866420055.
    • Suite Vénitienne [English translation]. Seattle: Bay Press, 1988. ISBN 9780941920094.
    • Suite Vénitienne [English translation]. Los Angeles: Siglio, 2015 ISBN 9781938221095.
  • L'Hôtel. Paris: Editions de l'Etoile, 1984. ISBN 9782866420154.
  • La Fille du Docteur. New York: Thea Westreich, 1991. OCLC 24809451.
  • Des Histoires Vraies. Arles, France: Actes Sud, 1994. ISBN 9782742703425.
    • True Stories [English translation and revision, 1st edition]. Arles, France: Actes Sud, 2013. ISBN 9782330023416.
  • Die Entfernung. Dresden: Verl. der Kunst, 1996. OCLC 248791020.
    • The Detachment [English translation]. G+B Arts International and Arndt & Partner Gallery, 1996. OCLC 38067246.
  • L'Erouv de Jérusalem. Arles, France: Actes Sud, 1996. ISBN 9782742709649.
  • Doubles-Jeux. Arles, France: Actes Sud, 1998. Seven volumes:
  • Double Game [English translation and revision of Doubles-Jeux]. With Paul Auster. London: Violette, 1999. ISBN 9781900828062.
  • Souvenirs de Berlin-Est. Arles, France: Actes Sud, 1999. ISBN 9782742726028.
  • Disparitions. Arles, France: Actes Sud, 2000. ISBN 9782742728039.
    • Detachment [English translation]. Arles, France: Actes Sud, 2013. ISBN 9782330019808.
  • Les Dormeurs. Arles, France: Actes Sud, 2000. ISBN 9782742730384.
  • Fantômes. Arles, France: Actes Sud, 2000. ISBN 9782742728022.
  • L'Absence [set with Souvenirs de Berlin-Est, Disparitions, and Fantômes]. Arles, France: Actes Sud, 2000. ISBN 9782742728015.
  • M'as-Tu Vue. Paris: Centre Georges Pompidou and Xavier Barral, 2003. ISBN 9782844262202.
  • Douleur Exquise. Arles, France: Actes Sud, 2003. ISBN 9782742745135.
  • Appointment with Sigmund Freud. London: Thames & Hudson; London: Violette, 2005. ISBN 9780500511992.
  • En Finir. Arles, France: Actes Sud, 2005. With Fabio Balducci. ISBN 9782742751778.
  • Take Care of Yourself = Prenez Soin de Vous. Arles, France: Actes Sud, 2007. ISBN 9782742768356.
  • True Stories: Hasselblad Award 2010. Göttingen, Germany: Steidl, 2010. ISBN 9783869301563.
  • Blind. Arles, France: Actes Sud, 2011. ISBN 9782330000585.
  • The Address Book. Los Angeles: Siglio, 2012. ISBN 9780979956294.
  • Rachel, Monique... Paris: Xavier Barral, 2012. ISBN 9782915173789.
  • Voir la Mer. Arles, France: Actes Sud, 2013. ISBN 9782330016166.
  • My All. Arles, France: Actes Sud, 2016. ISBN 9782330053697.
  • Ainsi de Suite. Paris: Xavier Barral, 2016. ISBN 9782365110464.
  • Parce Que. Paris: Xavier Barral, 2018. ISBN 9782365112079.
  • Que Faites-Vous de Vos Morts? Arles, France: Actes Sud, 2019. ISBN 9782330113643.
  • The Hotel Catskill, NY: Siglio, 2021. ISBN 9781938221293.

Audio releases[edit]




  1. ^ Tate. "Sophie Calle born 1953". Tate. Retrieved 2019-01-07.
  2. ^ a b c d e f O'Hagan, Sean (4 March 2017). "Strangers, secrets and desire: the surreal world of Sophie Calle". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 4 March 2017.
  3. ^ Hillstrom, Laurie Collier (1999). Contemporary Women Artists. Farmington Hills, MI: St. James Press. pp. 107–110. ISBN 1-55862-372-8.
  4. ^ Sophie Calle. 2009 Russel Lecture. University of California, San Diego. Visual Arts Department and MCASD. January 15, 2009
  5. ^ Program of the festival Centre Pompidou in the State Hermitage Museum. Hermitage 20/21 Project. October/November 2010
  6. ^ Sophie Calle. Public Places – Private Space. Archived 2011-07-18 at the Wayback Machine Musée d'art et d'histoire du Judaïsme, Paris. March 7, 2001– June 28, 2001
  7. ^ Sophie Calle. Questionnaire. Archived 2010-10-23 at the Wayback Machine Frieze Magazine. June–August 2009
  8. ^ a b "Deutsche Börse Photograpohy Foundation Prize 2017". The Photographers' Gallery. Archived from the original on 2017-01-09.
  9. ^ a b O'Hagan, Sean (1 March 2017). "'The cat in the coffin almost steals the show' ... the Deutsche Börse photography prize". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 2 March 2017.
  10. ^ Bois, Yve-Alain, "Character Study: Sophie Calle." Artforum, April, 2000, pp. 126–31.
  11. ^ Sophie Calle, M'as-tu vue. Munich: Prestel Publishing. 2003. p. 15. ISBN 3-7913-3035-7.
  12. ^ Phaidon Editors (2019). Great women artists. Phaidon Press. p. 82. ISBN 978-0714878775. {{cite book}}: |last1= has generic name (help)
  13. ^ Hanhardt, John G. et al., Moving Pictures: Contemporary Photography and Video from the Guggenheim Collection. (Hardcover) Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation (2003)
  14. ^ Sophie Calle, M'as-tu vue. Munich: Prestel Publishing. 2003. p. 377. ISBN 3-7913-3035-7.
  15. ^ Nicol, Yann (September 2, 2006). "Experiential Lit: Grégoire Bouillier with Yann Nicol Translated by Violaine Huisman and Lorin Stein". The Brooklyn Rail.
  16. ^ a b Auster, Paul et al., Doubles-jeux: Gotham Handbook, livre VII. (Paperback) Actes Sud, 1998
  17. ^ "Maria, Myself and I". www.nytimes.com. Retrieved 2017-04-01.
  18. ^ Eva Wiseman (2 July 2017). "Sophie Calle:'What attracts me is absence, missing, death...'". The Observer. Retrieved 11 September 2017.
  19. ^ a b c Neri, Louise (24 March 2009). "Sophie Calle". Interview. Retrieved 4 March 2017.
  20. ^ "Sophie Calle: Take Care of Yourself – Installation Views | Paula Cooper Gallery". www.paulacoopergallery.com.
  21. ^ Jessica Lott (2009), Sophie Calle, Paula Cooper Gallery, New York, USA, Frieze, retrieved 2010-04-27
  22. ^ "Exhibitions - Louisiana Museum of Modern Art". Archived from the original on 2011-09-28. Retrieved 2017-07-21.
  23. ^ "In 'Rachel, Monique,' Sophie Calle Eulogizes Her Mother - The New York Times". web.archive.org. 2023-12-03. Retrieved 2024-03-08.
  24. ^ "Sophie Calle | North Pole / Pole Nord (2009) | Available for Sale | Artsy". www.artsy.net. Retrieved 2024-03-08.
  25. ^ "Sophie Calle's "Here Lie the Secrets..."". Creative Time. Retrieved 2024-02-05.
  26. ^ Sophie Calle, M'as-tu vue. Munich: Prestel Publishing. 2003. p. 17. ISBN 3-7913-3035-7.
  27. ^ "He loves me not", 16 June 2007. Retrieved 7 November 2017
  28. ^ Gopnik, Blake (2011-06-05). "The 10 Most Important Artists of Today". Newsweek. Retrieved 2021-04-25.
  29. ^ Calle, Sophie (9 January 2011). "Sophie Calle: 'I asked for the moon and I got it'". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2020-06-07 – via www.theguardian.com.
  30. ^ "The RPS Annual Awards 2019". rps.org. Archived from the original on 2019-09-05. Retrieved 2019-09-06.
  31. ^ Jobey, Liz (10 January 2020). "The artist Sophie Calle: 'People think they know me. But they know nothing'". Financial Times. Retrieved 2020-03-26.


External links[edit]