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Christian Boltanski (1944-1921)

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For me personally Boltanski stands for “remembering” and expressing this in gloomy art. The dark side is always present in his art and publications. Now Boltanski is dead and he leaves us with some of the greatest art from the last 50 years.

Christian Boltanski was born in 1944 in Paris and died in 2021 in Paris. In the 1960s he began to develop a “personal ethnology” marked, among others, by the influence of Claude Lévi-Strauss and Harald Szeemann. At the same time, drawing on museology, Boltanski exhibited inventories of items of anonymous owners. It is often the case in Boltanski’s work that objects (photos, pieces of clothing, bells, flowers…) give voice to absent subjects and are an invitation to the viewer to meditate and contemplate.

Since his first exhibition at LeRanelagh cinema in 1968 Boltanski’s work has been shown in numerous countries. Recent solo shows have been at Centre Pompidou, Paris, France (2019); Espace Louis Vuitton Tokyo, Japan (2019); The National Museum of Art, Osaka, Japan and the National Art Gallery, Tokyo, Japan (2019); The Israel Museum, Jerusalem (2018); The Power Station of Art, Shanghai, China (2018); the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Buenos Aires, Argentina (2017); Museo d’Arte Moderna di Bologna, Italy (2017); The Museum of Contemporary Art of Monterrey, Mexico (2016); Instituto Valenciano Arte Moderno (IVAM), Spain (2016); Mac’s Grand Hornu, Belgium (2015); and Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Santiago, Chile (2014).

Boltanski was recognized with several awards over his lifetime, including the Praemium Imperiale Award (2006) and the Kaiser Ring Award (2001). He participated in Documenta (1977 and 1972) and numerous Venice Biennales (2011, 1995, 1993, 1980, and 1975).

www.ftn-books.com  has a large selection of Boltanski titles available

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Ania Bien (1946)

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At first glance i thought i had a book by Christian Boltanski, but…..studying it more closely i soon noticed that it was by Ania Bien. There are so many similarities between the two artists. Th Holocaust is a central theme within their oeuvre and both approach this theme in a very direct and personal way. They make a kind of art that makes you think and reflect.

Ania Bien (born 1946) is an American photographer.Born in Kraków, Poland, to Polish-Jewish parents, she moved to the United States in 1958, where she studied painting and cultural anthropology. Since 1973 she has lived in Amsterdam.

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One of Ania’s early projects, Hotel Polen ( available at www.ftn-books.com), referred to the Hotel Polen fire (which became “part of Bien’s wider theme of destruction”) in Amsterdam, 1977, and established her reputation in Dutch art circles. The collection of photographs illustrated a hotel before World War II, showcasing the relative luxury of middle-class travel in Europe, but objects in the photographs associated with the Holocaust indicate that this was a “doomed” way of life. She fabricated 18 replicas of the hotel’s menu stands, and used them to display the photographs. David Levi-Strauss wrote that Bien’s art piece is a “polysemous work of absence, in which what happens between images is the most important.” The work was displayed at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 1987 and at the Amsterdams Historisch Museum in 1988.

Some of Bien’s work is concerned with Franz Kafka; one of her photographs has her place her hand on a portrait of Kafka’s, in response to a note he wrote in 1924 to Dora Diamant, “Place your hand on my forehead for a moment, so I can gain courage.” Her 1989 installation Past Perfect asked “what would have happened had [Kafka] not died in 1924, but instead had come as a refugee to America in the late ’30s.” It gained her international recognition, and was also shown in Jerusalem.

Bien is interested in war, discrimination, and the plight of refugees. She contributed photographs from a centre for asylum seekers in Haarlem to a 1994 book on refugee children in such centers in the Netherlands, Ontheemde kinderen.

She has also exhibited at Portfolio Gallery in Edinburgh, Scotland, and the Joods Historisch Museum in Amsterdam.

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Christian Boltanski (1944)

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Christian Boltanski participtaed in over 150 exhibitions world wide and his works are in the collections of the DE PONT museum and Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. 2 reasons to devote this blog to Bo;latnski. Firts is that i acquired and important publication by Boltanski  which he designed and contributed. Published by Agnes B, there is a complete series of regularly published magazines titles Points d’Ironie. Boltanski was one of the founders of this highly collectable series and because of this acquisition i remembered the very impressive installation at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao….”HUMANS”

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This is what the Guggenheim says on the installation HUMANS by Christian Boltanski

At once personal and universal in reference, Humans is one of several large-scale works by Boltanski that serve as monuments to the dead, hinting at the Holocaust without naming it explicitly. Through its size and tone, the work evokes the contemplative atmosphere of a small theater or a space for religious observance. The installation consists of more than 1,100 images that the artist rephotographed from sources he had previously used: school portraits, family photographs, newspaper pictures, and police registries. Simultaneously illuminated and obfuscated by dangling lightbulbs, the snapshots provide no context with which to identify or connect the unnamed individuals, or to distinguish the living from the dead or victims from criminals. Each of these traces of human life has been reduced to a uniform size to obscure distinguishing features and to suggest the equality of the photographs’ subjects. The collection of images is installed at random, thereby prohibiting the imposition of a single narrative. Within this haunting environment, Boltanski intermingles emotion and history, juxtaposing innocence and guilt, truth and deception, sentimentality and profundity.

Point d’Ironie and other Boltanski publications are available at www.ftn-books.com