French photographer, sculptor, painter, and installation artist Christian Boltanski was born in Paris in 1944. His father was Jewish, and the Nazi occupation and the difficult economic times in the aftermath of World War II had a large influence over Boltanski’s early years. After leaving school at the age of 12, he became a self-taught artist and made plasticine sculptures and large figurative paintings. By the late 1960s, Boltanski had begun to favor photography and sculpture over painting. His works from the 1970s explored the possibilities of objects made of clay and from unconventional materials such as sugar and gauze dressings.
Boltanski’s works often revolve around the themes of loss, childhood, memory, and mortality. For example, in the 1980s Boltanski curated groupings of found objects and photographs taken from newspapers, family photo albums, and other sources to create installations and assemblages that often functioned as memorials. Many of these works allude to lives lost in the Holocaust. More recently, Boltanski’s interest in archives and in collections of objects that act as relics of human lives has led to large, immersive installations involving monumental heaps of used clothes.
The making of books has long been an important part of Boltanski’s artistic practice. In 1969, one year after his first solo exhibition, Boltanski created his first two books – Recherche et présensation de tout ce qui reste de mon enfance, 1944–1950 (Research and Presentation of All that Remains of My Childhood, 1944–1950) and Reconstitution d'un accident qui ne m'est pas encore arrivé et où j'ai trouvé la mort (Reconstitution of an Accident Which Has Not Yet Happened and Where I Found Death). Since then he has created or contributed to over eighty books. Frequently featuring photographs gathered from other sources, his books revolve around the themes of death, the impossibility of telling the innocent from the guilty, and the reconstruction of his childhood and of the lives of others. For example, Les Suisses Morts (1991) collects obituary photos taken from a Swiss newspaper, while Sans-Souci (1991) presents ordinary photos of seemingly carefree families who are, in fact, families of Nazi soldiers on leave.
Boltanski has received many awards, including the Kaiserring prize from the city of Goslar, Germany (2001) and the Praemium Imperiale for sculpture from the Japan Art Association (2006). He has participated frequently in the Venice Biennale (1972, 1995, 2011) and Documenta (1972, 1977, 1987). His works can be found in collections of the Guggenheim Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, and many others.
Books with Christian Boltanski available from Boreas Fine Art:
Boltanski, Christian. Monuments: Leçons de Ténèbres. [ Paris ]: L’Association Française d’Action Artistique (Ministère des Affaires Etrangères). 1986.
Boltanski, Christian. Le Lycée Chases. St. Étienne: Maison de la Culture et de la Communication de Saint Étienne. 1987.
Boltanski, Christian. Géo Harly: Danseur Parodiste. Dijon: L’Association pour la diffusion de l’Art Contemporain. 1988.
Boltanski, Christian. Archives. Arles (Le Méjan): Actes Sud. 1989.
Boltanski, Christian. Diese Kinder Suchen Ihre Eltern. Munich: Gina Kehayoff Verlag. 1994.
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