Beating The Odds
Wallpaper|April 2018

On the eve of his first solo show in london for eight years, we visit septuagenarian french artist christian boltanski in his studio outside paris to discuss mortality, whale sounds and a wager over death with a tasmanian devil

Amy Serafin

‘Where are the cameras?’ I ask Christian Boltanski as we enter his studio in Malakoff, just outside Paris. He points out several, all feeding live footage to a grotto in Tasmania’s Museum of Old and New Art. In 2009, David Walsh, the professional gambler, art collector and founder of the museum (see W*141), agreed to pay Boltanski a monthly stipend until the end of the artist’s life for the right to film his studio 24 hours a day for an ongoing live video piece entitled The Life of C.B.

Walsh wagered that Boltanski would die within eight years; after that time, Walsh would end up spending more for the work than it was really worth. But those eight years have now passed, and the French sculptor and photographer still shows up on the feed – sitting at his computer, chewing on an unlit pipe, mulling over his next work. ‘He would like to see me die in real time,’ Boltanski says with a chuckle.

Mortality has long been a obsession for Boltanski. And yet, at 73, he’s still going strong, travelling the world, creating new works and mounting exhibitions. This spring, the Marian Goodman Gallery hosts his first solo presentation in London since 2010, with recent works including the film installations Animitas and Misterios. In his studio, there are sketches and models for upcoming museum shows in Shanghai, Jerusalem, Tokyo, and the Centre Pompidou in Paris.

‘He is certainly one of the major figures of the last 50 years,’ says Bernard Blistène, director of the Centre Pompidou’s Musée National d’Art Moderne and one of the first curators to give Boltanski his own show, back in 1984. He says the artist introduced an emotional dimension to conceptual art at a time when most others denied it. Since then, Blistène feels that Boltanski’s work has only grown deeper.

Perhaps literally, too – Boltanski wants to put a section of his upcoming Paris exhibition in the museum’s underground car park. ‘I imagine that being up high, in the ‘glorious’ floors of the Centre Pompidou, and at the same time underground, is like saying that in every human being there is grandeur and misery, glory and confinement, high and low,’ remarks Blistène.

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