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Back to Reviews 96

cologne reviews
by Rosanne Alstatt

christian boltanski

at jule kewenig and the institut francias

The walls of Jule Kewenig's castle-gallery in Frechen, Germany (near Cologne), are covered from ceiling to floor with perfect rows of grainy, black-and-white photographs. Images from Christian Boltanski's 1995 "Menschlich" (human) exhibition in the Vienna Kunsthalle fill the room with mathematical perfection. This does not detract from the warmth of Boltanski's subject, which seems to be a documentation of lost souls. Among the images are portraits of missing children staring into the camera, dead persons from the "Suisses morts" series, and Nazi soldiers sitting relaxed with their friends and families. These are the kind of photographs that are usually tucked away in forgotten photo-albums holding the tragic past found in every family and society, particularly those with a Fascist past. The overwhelming number of images and mixing of different subject groups enhances the individual photographs' anonymity and increases the installation's ability to be chilling and sentimental at once. They are photographs of a post-Holocaust Europe. Today they are viewed as figures from the past haunting the present, a reminder that tragedy is never too far away.

The parallel exhibition at the "Institut Francais" shows books, photographs and other documentary materials carefully assembled in glass cases. With Boltanski's newspaper-clipping esthetic, the configuration of forgotten objects, persons and histories seems to be opened up for the interested, but able to be easily overlooked by those who do not want to bother with digging up the past.

ROSANNE ALTSTATT is a critic and curator working in Cologne.

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