For her newest exhibition at Galerie Perrotin, Sophie Calle returns to themes of absence and presence, memory and “the real” through the exploration of three situations in which iconic artworks were stolen or destroyed, and the subtle emotional and structural fallout caused by the disappearance of iconic works by Rembrandt, Degas, and others.
Calle has long been interested in the intersection of the the viewer and the artwork, examining personal interpretations and experiences from the context of her own institutional position, and here, she takes this exchange to a new level, threading exterior interjections into the museum from outside. Throughout each series of works, Calle asks visitors to describe their relation to an absent work, or to describe the work from memory, descriptions which are then included adjacent to the missing works.
It’s an added inquiry into some of the more enigmatic ways that museums and visitors manifest and remember loss within the context of the museum collection. Perhaps the most famous example, the infamous theft of works from Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, addressed the loss of its pieces by keeping the frames from which the paintings had been cut. A decidedly human move in the often sterile air of the museum, Calle fills in what could be construed as empty space between the viewer and the empty frame, providing a link to the lost works, and a human element that encourages an extended meditation on the piece’s disappearance.
The texts for each work often vacillate between the formal and the personal, mixing reflection with outright description. The viewer and the viewed becomes muddled, perhaps a result of the subject digging deep into their memory to try and reclaim some part of the absent work. Moving beyond previous work, where Calle merely her own experiences, Dérobés sees her advancing on a broader historical situation, using her subjects (both work and its viewer’s) to create an extended dialogue with history, one that restores a wholly human awareness of the impact theft makes on both the institution and its constituency.
Expressing the often absent sense of loss that the museum itself experiences through theft or damage, Calle here portrays a compelling, human side to the mission of the art institution.
— D. Creahan
Sophie Calle at Galerie Perrotin [Exhibition Site]