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French artist Christian Boltanski's work represents a profound and disturbing archive of our social, cultural, ethnic and personal histories, introducing existential mysteries into a post modern world. His powerful installations (which generally consist of ethereal materials and objects that refer to a lived life, such as newspaper clippings, light bulbs, candles, rusty biscuit tins, found snapshots, shadows and old clothing), provoke emotional responses from their viewers, as they often deal with memories of the past and how we hold on to these reminiscences. These evocative installations also present the viewers with powerful and vivid paradoxes such as light versus dark, life versus death, presence versus absence and the organic versus the mechanic. Furthermore, Boltanski's art seems to be concerned with the sometimes subtle balance betweem presence and absence, and our need to be remembered while risking being forgotten. At the heart of Boltanski's work, however, is the individual, the subject and particularly the loss of the individual.
"In my work, I have always wanted there to be a lot of people: there are thousands of dead Swiss people, thousands of inventory objects, enormous lists...What I am trying to show is the number and at the same time the uniqueness of each individual. It is very important for me, we are all apparently alike and yet all different, all unique, therefore in this sense all saved" (Boltanski quoted in D. Eccher (ed.), Christian Boltanski Pentimenti, Milan 1997, p. 66).
Photographic installations, such as le Reliquaire and Reserve des Enfants, are central to Boltanski's oeuvre. He chooses photography as his primary tool of execution for its association with truthfulness, reality and its ability to record memories and death. Boltasnki alters the context within which the images are seen and is thus able to assign them different associations. Re-photographed close-ups of his 'victims', their faces conveying the pathos of arrested lives, are illuminated by the harsh glare of desk lamps which evoke the atmosphere of an interrogation room and are placed mercilessly up against their glass covered faces, making it harder to see the image due to the strong reflection.
Between 1987 and 1990, Boltanski created a number of works using a group photograph of Jewish children, taken in 1939, showing them dressed for the celebration of Purim. The festival of Purim commemorates the day when the Jewish population of Persia narrowlu escaped a massacre. Boltanski uses this association together with that of the Holocaust, to create an important and emotional body of work. Some of the works done in this series were given the title of Reliquairies, and are best described as sculptures, with the rusty boxes serving as suitable bases for the photographs, filled with notions of death.
The present lot, Archives du musée des enfants III, was created following another version which was completed in 1989 and presented at the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris for an exhibition which analysed the relationship between contemporary art and the function of the museum. To access this first Réserve du Musée des Enfants, visitors took an escalator usually unused by the public. Once in the basement of the museum, they arrived at the first room containing fifty-five large black and white portraits; these blurry images, all representing children, were arranged in a manner that formed a monumental rectangle. The portraits were again fixed with adjustable desk lamps, whose electric bulbs hung in front of, and partially concealed, the childrens' faces. The frames of the images played a similarly important role. Boltanski framed these portraits so that the space surrounding each head disappeared, thus giving the viewer contemplating the images the impressions that they were disintegrating before their very eyes.
Conscious of the sentimentality of his work, Boltanski challenges the viewer to express his feelings thus affirming, as a reaction to the artworks, that he is still alive. The installations, which are transient, imposing, accessible and full of resonance, reference the future certainty of our death and the continuing uncertainty of our lives.
PROPERTY FROM THE COLLECTION OF MICHELINE & CLAUDE RENARD