Event date 27 January - 10 February
Event location Paris
From 27 January to 10 February 2023, Christie's will feature the work of Raphaël Denis, who explores the question of looting of works of art that occurred in France during the Second World War.
Artist-researcher Raphaël Denis has been developing the present set of installations entitled La Loi normale des erreurs for almost ten years.
Assembled by families of objects in the manner of memorials, these conceptual installations of unprecedented visual force metamorphose each looted work of art into an object defined solely by the primary physical characteristics of the looted work it materialises.
Thanks to extensive prior documentary work, the artist constructs these objects around their typology, their dimensions and the inventory number associated with them, thus forming an extremely precise and meticulous echo of the fate that was reserved for each work they represent.
These Loi normale des erreurs then appear before us as the spectre of the looting they embody; stripped of their original composition or subject, of any painting, and stripped of their poetry by their lack of title other than their inventory number.
If the artist only uses materials of apparent simplicity - wood, fabric, ink - it is above all to reinforce the symbolic charge of these installations. The linen sheets, for example, are as much a reference to the linen canvas of the paintings as to the shrouds covering the sculptures.
As for the looted works on which the artist chose to focus, only portraits will be found. The fact that he focuses his work on works representing a human presence and ideally portraits - and thus excludes landscapes and still lifes from his field - is far from accidental; this choice only increases the immediate link that the viewer can make, by mental projection, between the looted work and the owner who was robbed during the war.
In addition to these installations, Christie's is honoured to exhibit a previously unseen work created by the artist for the occasion and paying tribute to René Gimpel, an interwar art dealer in France famous for his Journal d’un collectionneur.
While many collections and works of art are reincarnated before our eyes, it is only a derisory part of the looting that took place during the Occupation that is recounted here; the fragmentary nature of this ensemble reinforces the impossibility of finding everything, of “saving” everything.
This exhibition is the first in a series of Christie's events around the world in 2023, all dedicated to the field of restitution, to mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art.
Explore the exhibition
La Loi normale des erreurs: Heibronn 7
Fragments of Collections
9 Avenue Matignon
27 January, 10am – 6pm
28 January, 10am – 6pm
29 January, 2pm – 6pm
30 January, 10am – 6pm
31 January, 10am – 6pm
1 February, 10am – 6pm
2 February, 10am – 6pm
3 February, 10am – 6pm
4 & 5 February, closed
6 February, 10am – 6pm
7 February, 10am – 6pm
8 February, 10am – 6pm
9 February, 10am – 6pm
10 February, 10am – 6pm
Meet the artist
Since 2014, Raphaël Denis, artist-researcher has been exploring his Loi normale des erreurs, a series of installations that question the very notion of “collection” through the prism of the plundering of artworks that occurred in France during World War II.
Exhibited in many prestigious institutions such as the Musée Picasso and the Centre Pompidou in Paris or the Museum Berggruen in Berlin and the Kunsthaus in Zurich, these works are both conceptual and immersive and explore the grey areas behind each object and each collection.
Relying on the Reichsleiter Rosenberg Taskforce (ERR) files available online, these installations are based on an important archival work leading to the identification of looted works. The artistic approach behind La Loi normale des erreurs became an unexpected way of entering a conflictual environment, where individual, family and collective memories intersect, as well as legal, financial and institutional issues.
‘ The origin of Raphaël Denis’ investigation is a young artist’s questioning of what a collection truly is. How do the works I submit to the attention of collectors and museums come together as a whole? How can one characterise the identity of a collection?
Raphaël Denis has arranged collections which are fictive, fictional and fleeting but which really existed, since they have been archived – or exist in archives in the form of traces. These collections are at once improbable but significant, in that their shadows still loom over theartworks to this day. In so doing, Denis holds up a mirror to collections of all kinds: why and how were they assembled, and what are they made of?
It is the scope of the cycle entitled La Loi normale des erreurs which Raphaël Denis began in 2014 with the eponymous installation, conceived on the basis of lists established by the Nazi service in charge of the seizures.’
– Didier Schulmann
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About Christie’s Restitution Services
For over a quarter of a century, Christie’s has engaged with the legacy of Nazi era and World War II art theft and dispossession. Losses during 1933–1945 to Europe’s collections, in particular those of Jewish collectors, through persecution, confiscation, and forced sales continues to resonate strongly in today’s art world. Christie’s has the largest and most experienced Restitution team of any international auction house, underscoring our responsibility to this field.
We invite you to explore our work in Restitution.