Christian Boltanski, 2009

Kunstprojekt Salzburg 2009
Christian Boltanski: “Vanitas”
Crypt of Salzburg Cathedral
Sammlung Würth, Inv. 15613

Assuming particular importance within the programme of sculpture projects initiated by the Salzburg Foundation, the Eighth Salzburg Art Project is inviting visitors to an historical site, which had previously lain inaccessible prior to the current restoration work – undertaken especially for this event. In the choir crypt of the Late Romanesque Salzburg Cathedral, the French artist Christian Boltanski is staging a shadow play entitled “Vanitas” which perfectly matches this unique setting. Here Boltanski has successfully forged a vision of ephemerality, entirely consistent with the ambience of the location: Formerly occupying consecrated ground, the choir crypt also served as a burial chamber. Through his artistic intervention, Christian Boltanski has transformed this historical space into a site of mystery, which unites the spirituality of his art with the sacred churchly aura.

Christian Boltanski‘s installation “Vanitas” comprises two parts, one sculptural, the other acoustic. On one wall the artist has mounted twelve delicately slender, puppet-like figures cut from sheet metal, which are illuminated by candles. In the flickering light they cast shadows onto the wall, and the apse is filled with the revolving projection of the shadowy angel of death. At the same time, the sound of a looped recording of the automatic speaking-clock echoes through the room. The artist’s shadow play is a modern “Danse Macabre”, with time passing audibly as one observes it: “I want time to be heard and sensed“, states Christian Boltanski in explanation of his work. “People are capable of many things, but they cannot turn back the flow of time. God is the Lord of time.“

Built by Archbishop Konrad III (1181-1200), the choir crypt was filled in after the fire of 1598 and the subsequent demolition of the Late Romanesque cathedral. It was uncovered during the Cathedral excavations undertaken from 1956-1958, but not until the launch of the Salzburg Art Project featuring Christian Boltanski’s installation, has the crypt now been transformed into a public space and opened to visitors.

Christian Boltanski (*1944) lives and works in Malakoff, on the outskirts of Paris. He has been represented at the documenta in Kassel three times, and in 2006 garnered the prestigious Praemium Imperiale arts award for sculpture.

The restoration of the crypt and the presentation of the art project are the result of a joint initiative by the Cathedral custos Balthasar Sieberer and the Salzburg Foundation. The art project was funded by the Salzburg Foundation, and the crypt’s restoration was facilitated by the Archiepiscopal Salzburg Cathedral Fund with the support of the Propter Homines Foundation in Liechtenstein, the Federal Office for the Protection of Monuments, the Federal Ministry for Education, Art and Culture, the Federal State of Salzburg, and the City of Salzburg.

Inaugural Address by Peter Iden (PDF, German)

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