Christian Boltanski, No Man's Land

Boltanski's mounds of old clothes are more depressing than poignant.

  • No Man's Land

No Man's Land

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>3/5

Walking into Christian Boltanski’s massive installation is like visiting a scene from The Road, Cormac McCarthy’s depressing postapocalyptic novel. Old clothes are laid on the floor in a vast gridded formation divided by pathways. Each block is further sectioned off by rusting steel stanchions from which a fluorescent light is slung low, hanging just above the clothes. At the grid’s center is a towering mountain of clothes. A crane with tinted windows idly plucks a few from the top, lifts them into the air, then opens its jaws and lets them fall. It’s like Wall-E’s evil twin.

No Man’s Land exudes an undeniable aura of menace and chilling dehumanization. But to what purpose? On the ground level, the pungent smell of thrift-store clothes, combined with the throb of recorded heartbeats emanating from speakers, gives the giant space an ominous, somber quality. Viewed from the balcony, it’s less clear what viewers are expected to take away. The endless sorting is meant to represent what exactly?

Not the Holocaust, although the timeless look of the clothes could lend itself to such a reading. In the brochure, Boltanski claims the work could just as easily be about the earthquake in Haiti, or any event in which many people died. But the vague gesture toward poignancy ultimately feels empty and generic. It’s worth noting that the Armory doubles as a women’s shelter. Perhaps if this work specifically addressed the plight of those living in its immediate vicinity rather than the faraway dead, it would have greater and deeper impact.

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Park Avenue Armory, through June 13