Magazine article Artforum International

Christian Boltanski: Magasin 3

Magazine article Artforum International

Christian Boltanski: Magasin 3

Article excerpt

Christian Boltanski is a romantic committed to a covenant between art and death. Inventory of Objects Belonging to a Young Woman of Charleston, 1992, for instance, impassively archived the mortal effects of a nameless dead woman. The title, subtly telling of a life cut short, serves the artist's conscious effort to induce melancholic feelings that transform an anonymous death into a figure of myth. Boltanski's dramaturgy borrows from earlier romantics, not least John Keats, who instructed that his tombstone carry only the inscription HERE LIES ONE WHOSE NAME WAS WRIT IN WATER. Indeed, Boltanski's oeuvre might have appealed to Keats, who also once confessed, "I have an habitual feeling ... that I am leading a posthumous existence." Boltanski's laconic visual language is in league with the romantic-mythic undertones of the individual rendered anonymous in death, especially, as for Keats, when the myth is oneself.

With the poetic meter of an elegy, "Les Archives," persuasively organized by Tessa Praun, converts posthumous existence into tangible experience. The exhibition, occupying two floors connected by a long, faintly lit stairway, delivers an experience of corporal uncertainty. Together, the six installations (three earlier and three new projects) depart from Boltanski's more inscrutable meditations on vanquished identity, posing concrete questions about physical and psychological characreristics. Entre temps (Meanwhile), 2004, leads the way: Chronologically arranged portraits of the artist (anonymous unless you recognize the subject) dissolve one into the next, and when the loop begins again and Boltanski the child emerges from the face of what he became, the effect is stirring. The portraits slip by in time as the amplified thumping of Boltanski's heart echoes next door in Le Coeur (The Heart), 2005: A bare lightbulb pulses, counting fleeting moments with his heart's rhythm. …

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