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Boltanski Christian

born in 1944

visual artist, photographer, painter, media artist, director, sculptor, filmmaker

After a patchy education and no formal training in art, Boltanski started painting as a teenager in 1958. His early paintings were big. They depicted historical events or, on occasion, lonely figures in macabre settings (coffins, for one).

From 1967 he started moving away from painting and exploring other forms of expression. He started writing letters and compiling compendia, and sending them to prominent figures in the arts scene. His raw materials were photocopies mingled among original documents and photographs from his family albums. Using these new materials was tantamount to investing his personal universe in his work. To the point where his personal history grew into one of the central themes.

The line between his life and work indeed often blurs. But not in a romantic, self-sacrificing way: Boltanski’s works are candidly amended episodes of his own life. Boltanski rewrites incidents from a life he has never lived, using touched-up photographs or things he has never had. He actually wrote an official autobiography of sorts for the retrospective that the Musée national d'art moderne organised in 1984. His life, he wrote in those memoirs, began when his calling became patent: “1958. He paints. He wants to make art. 1968. Doesn’t buy any more modern-art magazines, has a shock, gets into photography, black and white, tragic, human…”. But he did more than deride the obsequious conventions of retrospective catalogues: he prompted readers to take a new look at the point of life from a retrospective angle.

That is why the term “individual mythology”, the title of a section of an exhibition he took part in back in 1972, was so fitting: he told his story as a life anyone can identify with. Or, as he himself put it, “Good artists don’t have lives any more: their life is reduced to telling stories that others can believe are their own.”

Today, Boltanski is acknowledged as one of France’s foremost artists. He lives and works in Malakoff, a suburb southwest of Paris.


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