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Christian Boltanski "Chance" at the Venice Biennial "French pavilion"

Professional Days: 1 – 3 June 2011 from 10:00am to 6:00pm - Open to the public: 4 June - 27 November 2011

Christian Boltanski, a leading figure in the international art scene, is representing France at the 54th International Art Exhibition at the Venice Biennial; for the French Pavilion, he is featuring a spectacular installation entitled “Chance”. It deals with a theme he treasures, that of chance, luck and misfortune, the forces that fascinate us and impose their own laws.

The artist has chosen Jean-Hubert Martin, honorary director of the Georges Pompidou Musée National d’Art Moderne, as the commissioner. Under the commission headed by Swiss art historian and critic Bice Curiger, the 54thInternational Art Exhibition’s theme is “ILLUMInations”; the Biennial is one of the most important forums for disseminating and shedding light on current developments in the field of international art.

About Christian Boltanski

Born in Paris in 1944, Christian Boltanski painted until the late 1960’s. The artist played with autobiographical codes and reconstructed the objects and situations of his childhood.

From 1970 to 1973, he created the Vitrines de Références by diverting museum codes: objects found or manufactured by the artist were exhibited as collected testimonies of an innocuous life, of which only traces bordering on the absurd remained. In 1972, L’album de la famille D., presented at the Kassel Documenta, launched his international career; he used found images which he blew up into murals. He claims Joseph Beuys and Andy Warhol as his inspirations. The Inventaires are neutral installations created from the personal furniture and objects of an anonymous person.

After Les Saynètes comiques (1974), in which he put himself on stage miming scenes from his childhood, he went back to a more distanced and impersonal mode in Images modèles, which he created accordingto the standards of “fine photography.” He is one of the leading founders of conceptual photography, and his work on “average taste” anticipates the developments of post-conceptual art. In 1977, he created Compositions, photographs that reproduce, on a black background, small found or manufactured objects, enlarged to monumental scale, which highlight the inordinate importance each of us attaches to ephemeral and fragile things.

Beginning in 1984, he broke with his photographic tableaus. The series Ombres, Monuments, Reliquaires and Réserves took on a more dark tone. The materials from his earliest works were used once againin dramatic installations haunted by the idea of death. The Shoah then became a prevailing theme in his work, and it is openly established through the work he presented at Documenta 8 in Kassel in 1987.

In 1988, clothing appears as a key material that replaces the photographic portrait; it is like the ghostly imprint of the individual. Enumeration and archiving, then an obsession with lists, as shown in the works he did in the 1990’s, remind us that within the mass it is always the individual who counts. As in Menschlich (humanly), a wall installation made of hundreds of anonymous photos displayed at the Museum of Modern Art of Paris in 1998. Between 1990 and 2000, he also worked in the theatre, which prolonged and enhanced his plastic work. In collaboration with Jean Kalman and Frank Krawczyk, he created many performance works, ephemeral installations held in often unusual places.

At the same time, his exhibitions became more narrative and theatrical, forming a total work articulated around particular themes like time, memory, human beings and death. His work became universal by circumventing the particular, and for 2000 he planned to name all the inhabitants of Earth. He now favours projects with humanistic content that have a fable-like quality. He plans to create a place where the beating of every heart in the world will be kept. As time passes, he collects millions of heartbeats: his own, but most of all those of hundreds of individuals, which will eventually form The Archives of the Heart, a permanent installation on Teshima Island in Japan. He is installing a talking clock in the crypt of Salzburg Cathedral. In Tasmania, another permanent, Utopian installation was recently created.

There, Christian Boltanski “sold his life” (video recording of his work and actions in his studio) as an annuity to a collector.

In 2010, Monumenta: Personnes, a visual as well as audio work, is an unusual installation created for the Grand Palais in Paris. There he pursues his meditation on the limits of humanity and the essential dimension of memory: the question of fate and the unavoidability of death. Persons will then be “played over again” at the Park Avenue Armory in New York and then at the Hangar Bicocca in Milan.

About the 54th International Art Exhibition of the Venice Biennial


“The Venice Biennial’s International Art Exhibition is one of the most important forums for disseminating and discussing the latest developments in art. The title edition, ILLUMInazioni, focuses on the importance of this function and ability of the Biennial, even in a globalised world.
Gelitin, Dayanita Singh, Christopher Wool and others have created new productions referring directly to the central themes of ILLUMInazioni. [...] Works by previous generations of artists whose contemporariness places them at the heart of today’s debate will also be included. They include Llyn Foulkes (1934), Luigi Ghirri (1943-1992), Jack Goldstein (1945-2003), Gedewon (1939-1995) and Jeanne Natalie Wintsch (1871-1944).

Works by the Venetian painter Jacopo Tintoretto (1518-1594) will play a conspicuous role, establishing an artistic, historic and emotional rapport with the local context. These paintings exert a special charmfor their ecstatic, almost feverish light, and for their daring approach to composition, which revolutionises Classical order and defines the Renaissance. Although self-reflection is a determining factor in Contemporary art, it rarely moves outside of the territory included in the history of Modernism. Inclusion of the 16th century works of Tintoretto in a contemporary art biennial conveys unexpected and stimulating signals, and highlights the conventions of the art system. Such a comparison does not really derive from a formal analogy, but it is conceived rather as mutual reinforcement, which ends up underscoring the importance of works of art as visual vehicles of energy.

Art is a largely self-reflective field, which encourages a clear-sighted approach to the outside world. The communicative and interrelational aspect is crucial for the ideas that are at the basis of ILLUMInazioni, as demonstrated by this contemporary art that often shows its interest in life and seeks to be close to its dynamism. This is all the more important now, at a time when our sense of reality is called into question by virtual and simulated worlds.”

Bice Curiger, Commissioner of the 54th International Art Exhibition of the Venice Biennial

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