Reflective Vitrines

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Art 196b Honors, Repainting History - Tuesdays with Picasso, is a learning community whose objective is to study twentieth century art by attempting to create artwork inspired by the artists of the era.
            Reflective Vitrines 1985-2004 was inspired by the French installation artist Christian Boltanski, whose artwork often reflected his own “life history” and incorporated newspaper clippings, used clothes, amateur snapshots and flickering shadows.  Boltanski was part of the conceptual art movement.
            Conceptual art emerged during the mid-1960s. Many artists turned to conceptualism because they believed that creating commercially marketable works was in some ways unethical.  Conceptual art often makes use of materials such as photographs, maps and videos.  The idea of the art is more important than the artifact itself, Boltanski inspired both vitrines here in the library through his use of the concept of “archiving,” the blurring of photographs and the style of lighting.  The bare light bulb and obvious electrical wires, the use of photographs and boxes, and the limitation of colors to black and white are all characteristics of Boltanski’s art.
            In the flat vitrine, the numbers used are associated with the beginning of life.  They are the numbers we are assigned and have no choice but to accept.  These numbers are hidden, or archived” inside the boxes. In the tall vitrine, the numbers are more numerous and personal.  They are in clear boxes, representing the loss of identity, as we grow older.
 Christian Boltanski (1944 ­    ), one of France’s best-known post-war artists, began exhibiting his creative endeavors, ranging from film and sculpture to mail art and performance events, during the turbulent years of 1968-1972.
Boltanski’s work can be described as “minimal and conceptual”.
            According to Wikipedia, conceptual art focuses on “the ideas embodied by a piece,” rather than “‘the means used to create it.”  In other words, the idea of the work is more important than the object itself. Conceptual works are sometimes produced in visible form, but often they exist only as descriptions of mental concepts or ideas.
            In Art 196b Honors, Re-painting History: Tuesdays with Picasso, Professors Treadway and Spear asked the students to create two vitrines about identity, based on works done by Christian Boltanski. The vitrines showcase conceptual art and minimalism as they implicitly depict the journey of finding one’s identity through birth, only to lose it again through the red-tape of society and life. In Vitrine #l , students reflect on their status at birth; they are young and innocent, but already on the path to becoming nothing more than numbers.  From the issuance of social security numbers, their identities begin to fade.         In Vitrine #2, the students as young adults are lost in a society of identifying numbers from addresses and phone numbers to ID numbers and PINS. Together, the two vitrines depict the loss of individualism in a world that is striving for uniqueness.
For more information about the Art of Christian Boltanski: