After spectacular exhibitions as Personnes at the Monumenta 2010 in Paris, the current installation of the same name at the Foundation Hangar Bicocca in Milan, and "No Man's Land" in the Park Avenue Armory in New York, perhaps the most prominent figure in French contemporary art, Christian Boltanski, (b. in Paris in 1944), is showing new works at the Kewenig Galerie
Entering the exhibition space of the gallery, the visitor first comes to a wall made of rusty, labelled, tin cans. The archival character of the work is lent a morbid touch by the rusty, slightly shabby quality of the tin cans. The black-edged name-labels recall the labelling in archives where the traces of persons are preserved for posterity. The black, mournful edging around the names causes us to conjecture that it is a matter here of deceased persons. Boltanski created the installation in 1994 under the title, The Work People of Halifax 1877 1982. The artist took up the fate of workers at a long-established carpet factory in the English town of Halifax. The factory was closed in 1982 and the workers dismissed into joblessness. The labels' mournful edging therefore refers not to the cessation of human lives, but to the termination of a period of life for a lot of people. At that time, Christian Boltanski asked the workers to put mementoes of their time at the factory i nto the boxes. In the Cologne installation, the boxes are empty and are filled only virtually with viewers' memories and associations.
Making memories visible is a central theme in Boltanski's oeuvre which he takes up also in another installation in the main exhibition space at the Kewenig Galerie. With the aid of used clothes presented in three wired pens, Boltanski bundles the traces of human use by the clothes' wearers. He artistically collects together the practical, treasured, forgotten pieces of clothing, that have become too tight or too sloppy, of anonymous men and women. It is not without reason that the installations by this artist of Jewish descent consisting of used clothes are brought into association with images of the Holocaust and the well-known mountains of clothes taken from its victims.
The title of the exhibition, "Danach" (Afterwards), refers to a statement by the artist on how to deal with his art of recollection: "My work does not treat the topic of the Holocaust that would be shameless. [...] But my art has the awareness of the Holocaust it is not an art which has the Holocaust as its subject or, say, tries to explain it, but rather, which explains itself because the Holocaust occurred. It is an art afterwards." (Published in the catalogue Inventar of the Kunsthalle Hamburg, 1991)
A further installation by Boltanski in the vaulted basement of the Kewenig Galerie consists of children's beds formerly used in neonate wards. In the individually illuminated little beds there lie pieces of used children's clothing as traces of human life. The old clothes are like mementoes in the empty beds that underscore once more the emptiness of the beds which, in everyday life, are filled with newly born life. The effect of recollection unfolded by the installation passes through the viewers, who engage themselves in it by filling the beds with their own thoughts.