Obliquely Shown Crimes

Christian Boltanski’s Post-Holocaust Art
  • Carla Rose Shapiro


Contemporary conceptual art is one of the ‘texts’ which is now shaping the memory of the Holocaust, and, by extension impacting our culture’s social awareness of genocide, both past and present. The attempted genocide of European Jewry has been a continuing theme in Christian Boltanski’s installation art. Boltanski, one of France’s most eminent visual artists, addresses the myriad challenges inherent in representing the Holocaust through art and finds a middle path between abstraction and graphic representational depiction. Through a reworking of documentary photographs, Boltanski offers an original artistic response to the catastrophe of the Holocaust — working both within and outside traditional paradigms of Holocaust art and Holocaust historiography. As witnesses to the Holocaust, these documentary photographs are situated between the demands of historical meticulousness and the more lithe needs of Holocaust remembrance.1 However, the distinction made between historical representation and the artistic re-representation of historical events becomes more opaque in Boltanski’s work.2 Boltanski’s unique appropriations and reconfigurations of images of perpetrators, victims and bystanders of the Holocaust raise questions and offer insights into current aesthetic, moral and historical debates regarding the nature and identity of the victims, the indifference of the bystanders, and the motivations of the Second World War’s genocidal killers. Boltanski’s art fluctuates between the particular and the general as he engages viewers in pondering the fact of mass death in the 20th century.


Jewish Identity Mass Murder Photo Album Jewish School Death Camp 
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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • Carla Rose Shapiro

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