While in Madrid I saw my first Christian Boltanski installation and it took over all of my senses.
Having been wondering the Reina Sofia museum starting with the top floor, I followed my way around, one room after another, without a map.
I took an unsuspecting corner and was immediately overcome with a shiver. After a pause and an adjustment of my eyes; the dimly lit room took form.
My instant feeling was of having entered a walk in cooler and an instant after that it felt like a morgue. In an eerie burst of small coffins with black cloth draped over them was every natural person’s distress, children’s coffins. The ceiling hung with black electrical wires ending with exposed light bulbs. The seven coffins stood on stilts, at various heights, creating long shadows against the walls. The shadows and lights reflected off the small rectangular mirrors strewn about the walls. The center of the ceiling joined the thirteen lights which hooked and hung emphasizing bursts of light in various parts of the room.
To be sure I asked the attendant in Spanish ‘if the coldness was part of the installation’ and was told with a smile that it was.
I recognized Boltanski as the artist who took photos of dead people from Holocaust relics and titled his collages such things as ‘The Dead Suiss’ (1995).
His ominous art is a theme in Boltanski’s works as is the sense of loss. Born in 1944 to a Jewish father and Christian mother Boltanski grew up in fear, as his father hid under the floor boards of his family’s home avoiding Nazi detection. Growing up in a post WWII Paris, the influence this has on his art is undisputable however Boltanski has claimed that his art is neither Holocaust nor Jewish art.
Las Tumbas (1996) at the Reina Sofia has a shrine like quality to it that suggest it is representative of all wasted losses in all senseless wars, natural disasters, tragedies or accidents. It represents the past as well as foreshadowing the future giving a timeless unity and a uniform sadness to all human losses.
In 1991 Boltanski published a book titled “Sans Souci” which features photos of Nazi officers and their friends and families. The book implies as the Holocaust historian Christopher Browning has suggested in his book ''Ordinary Men,'' that these men and women were humans changed into evil murderers by an unavoidable human history. Of course history cannot help but repeat itself which leads one to question what role we could play in inevitable destruction.
Here is a great article about Mr. Boltanski: