[From title of archival box]: La Maison Manquante, The Missing House. Christian BOLTANSKI, artist.

“The Finger of God”

[From title of archival box]: La Maison Manquante, The Missing House.

Eight folders housed in an archival box (335 x 240 x 55 mm., secured with two elastic bands), containing original & reproduced photographs, maps, sketches, photographs, transcripts, and documents. Paris: La Hune, November 1992.

Boltanski’s rare “archive as artists’ book” stemming from the 1990 “Die Endlichkeit der Freiheit” exhibition [in trans. “The Finiteness of Freedom”] (September 1–October 7) in Berlin. This is one of 100 copies signed and numbered by the artist of a total edition of 120 (20 hors-commerce). For this exhibition, the artist created a memorial installation at Grosse Hamburger Strasse 15 in an empty lot where an apartment building had once stood between two identical structures. This missing building was destroyed during a bombing raid on 3 February 1945, killing most of the residents. Boltanski’s installation consisted of “a series of 12 black and white plaques, 120 x 60 cm, mounted on the facing walls, storey by storey, indicating the family name, profession, and period of residency of each tenant who had lived in the bombed out apartments. During the time of the exhibition, however, a second component of the work was installed in the former East Berlin. There, on the grounds of the also destroyed Berliner Gewerbe Austellung were placed a number of specially designed museum-like vitrines. Displayed within them were various forms of archival documentation, researched and ferreted out by the art students Christiane Büchner and Andreas Fischer who served as Boltanski’s assistants on this project. These museologically presented artifacts related to the building’s residents”–Abigail Solomon-Godeau, “Mourning or Melancholia: Christian Boltanski’s Missing House,” in Oxford Art Journal, Vol. 21, No. 2 (1998), p. 3. In the course of their investigation, Boltanski and his assistants discovered that before 1942, many of this obliterated building’s inhabitants had been Jews, until they were evicted, deported and very likely murdered at concentration camps.

The present work attempts to reconstruct and commemorate the lives of the residents of building B in the form of an archive with small details intended to mimic the original artifacts and documentation that substantiate the existence of these residents. In eight folders, Boltanski and his assistants present the story of this destroyed structure in West Berlin. Boltanski’s artists’ publication consists of approximately 150 documents — black & white and color photographs, photocopies, offset and stencil reproductions, postcards, maps, etc.) — many of which are reproduced in facsimile, inserted in eight envelopes. Below is a condensed inventory of these artifacts presented in the order found on the inside of the upper flap, along with Boltanski’s explanatory text (in trans.):

Folder 1: La Maison Manquante/The Missing House 15, Grosse-Hamburger-Strasse, Sept. 1990–“It is by chance that we discovered the house on Grosse-Hamburger Strasse: I was invited to an exhibition which was supposed to be held in various locations across Berlin, and it was while going to see the ruins of the large synagogue that I noticed this building in rather good shape, but of which the central part had completely disappeared.”
— An original color photograph of the missing house held in a folder, facing introductory text: “…But the memory remains, and every place, each story, becomes exemplary.”

Folder 2: Autour de la Maison Manquante–“Grosse-Hamburger Strasse is a calm street, slightly abandoned. There is a Catholic church right in front of the house. Some people showed me the remains of a school and a Jewish hospice, a little further a Protestant hospital.”
— Reproductions of maps and photographs of the area surrounding 15 Grosse-Hamburger Strasse, which was in one of the Jewish neighborhoods of Berlin. Accompanied by copied blueprints and diagrams of the destroyed building.

Folder 3: Ceux Qui Vivaient au 15, Grosse-Hamburger-Strasse, de 1930 à 1945–“The café had not changed since before the war, the inhabitants had mostly died. The survivors recounted to us many stories about the residents of the building which sometimes were mixed in my head: the one in the swimsuit sitting on the deck chair killed himself shortly after the end of the war; between the two young women who are holding hands, only one survived the extermination and lives today in Israel; the woman drinking tea is the one today who tells us her memories. It is the one who is to the left of the teacher who gave us the name of his classmates who surround him in this photo taken in 1938 taken in the courtyard of the Jewish school on Grosse-Hamburger Strasse: he does not know what happened to most of them, but he believes that all of those who played with him in the school’s orchestra died. There remains numerous documents about the apartment’s Jewish residents. Documented by the police, today it is easy to find traces of them. They were supposed to provide an exhaustive list of the objects found in their homes. The little wooden workbench, today in the home of Madame Kalies, is listed in the inventory of the Budzislawsky family.”
— Seven envelopes and packets with photographs of building B’s residents. The envelope labeled “Springer” holds the picture of the Jewish schoolchildren mentioned above and their names and some death dates have been added in green marker. The light-blue folder with the label “Budzislawski” contains several reproduced documents and a photograph of the workbench cited above.

Folder 4: Madame Kalies–“Mrs. Kalies now lives on the third floor of building A. She was there the day of the bombing and remembers everything. At her home, we can see on the wall a red-chalk portrait of her son, some photographs: her, as a young girl, her husband, her son taking a bath in one of the communal baths located in the attic of the apartment.”
— A photograph of Madame Kalies drinking tea, two pages of her recollections of the bombing on February 3rd 1945, and an envelope with the photographs mentioned above.

Folder 5: Kurt Porteset–“[He] (1928-45) lived on the second floor of building A. Very young he liked to draw and, during air raid alerts in the shelter under the house, he liked to “sketch” his neighbors. He died in the bombing of 1945. His brother preserved his notebook of drawings, the photo album and the family papers.”
— A larger portfolio which holds Kurt’s identification papers, convincingly reproduced notebook with sketches, documents, and a large number of family photographs.

Folder 6: Monsieur Schnapp–“[He] worked at the retirement home which, situated between the school and the cemetery, was located right in front of the house. He lived on the fourth floor. He was deported in 1943 and did not return. He had been an important member of the neighborhood’s Jewish community.”
— A series of reproduced documents chronicling the seizure of the Schnapps’s possessions, their home, and eventual deportation to concentration camps. This includes copies of the mandatory questionnaire and inventory filled out by the Schnapps to be given to the authorities.

Folder 7: Le 3 Février 1945–“It is during the bombing of February 3rd 1945 that the central part of the building was destroyed by a bomb. The newspaper Völkischer Beobachter cites this bombing as one of the most violent of these terrible weeks.”
— A packet of photographs depicting the destruction of the apartment building and a facsimile of the newspaper issue of the day after the bombing.

Folder 8: Le Cahier de Quittances–“In the receipt book saved by the brother of Kurt Porteset, we see that all of the rents were regularly paid, except those of May 1945.”

In pristine condition.

❧ Johanna Drucker, The Century of Artists’ Books, pp. 99-101–“Boltanski’s work is without a direct link to his personal history. The book was motivated by an encounter with a bit of damaged geography, a block in Berlin, in which an apartment house was destroyed in an otherwise nearly intact row of structures on February 3, 1945, near the end of World War II. Boltanski’s archive is a documentary history of that hole, that gap, that absence…

“The void of the bombed out streetscape is the place of his book, the point of its departure. Boltanski [and his assistants Christiane Büchner and Andreas Fischer] researched the history of the building…The result of this research is the compound archive housed in the box — a work done with the same materials archivists use. A standard box of grey, acid-free, cardboard, in which are folders containing maps, photographs, transcripts of conversations and interviews, lists and city records — in short all the written and visual documentation he could assemble. The interior folders are mostly labelled to correspond to names of individuals, though a few are more general and contain information about the building or the bombing which destroyed it. Boltanski’s archive…is almost clinical. It has the character of a dossier for a courtcase or a historical project. The emotional impact comes from identifying with the victims whose fate is a direct result of war, but a displaced experience of the Holocaust, one removed from the experience of the camps…

“As in many of Boltanski’s pieces which use the Second World War as a reference, the terror of the piece resides in its demonstration of the way such events insinuate themselves into the fabric of daily life. It is the documentation of normalcy, of small interiors of apartments in which unexceptional (and no doubt, some exceptional) individuals lived — human beings whose existence was subject to forces of history and politics over which they had little or no control — and in which they had no choice about whether or not to participate. Their existences are both incidental and individual, specific and generic, as represented by the archival evidence.”.

Price: $8,500.00

Item ID: 6994