Altar to the Chases High School (Autel Chases)

Christian Boltanski, France, 1944-
Altar to the Chases High School (Autel Chases)
4 black-and-white photographs in metal frames, 88 tin boxes, and 4 lamps
223 x 238 cm
Gift of Peter and Shawn Leibowitz, New York, to American Friends of the Israel Museum, in memory of Charles and Rosalind Leibowitz and Leila Sharenow
© 2005 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris
Accession number: B88.0274

Photo © IMJ, by Meidad Suchowolski

Boltanski's installations, constructed from perishable materials such as photographs, discarded clothes, cardboard boxes, and candles, reflect an ambiguous interweaving of Jewish and Christian references; personal and collective memories; light and darkness. Death, memory, and childhood are his major themes, and they are presented by means of black-and-white photographs, particularly amateur snapshots of anonymous people. Through them we remember childhood and how we memorialize the dead. Altar to the Chases High School (the correct spelling should be "Chajes," after Rabbi Hirsch Perez Chajes) is based on a found photograph of the graduating class of a Jewish school in Vienna. ("All we know about them is that they were students at the Chases High School in Vienna in 1931" is Boltanski's description.) He rephotographed the face of each student and enlarged it until the images lost all individuality. In a series of installation works using these new photographs, the blurred faces metamorphose into a grimace of death framed in tin. Each one, lit by a black interrogation lamp (which from a distance looks like a bullet hole in a forehead) rests on two columns of rusty tin boxes-containers of memories, possibly hiding personal relics of each student. The boxes, which can also be considered as serial elements of a minimalist sculpture, are in Boltanski's words "monuments, made not of bronze, but of tin."

The Israel Museum, Publisher: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 2005