Poster of the exhibition “Sophie Calle”

Poster of the exhibition “Sophie Calle”

Design: Steenbrink Vormgeving, Berlin


Sophie Calle

10 September to 13 December 2004

Berlin is the first station in Germany for a major exhibition of the works of Sophie Calle, one of the most important contemporary artists, who was born in Paris in 1953. The exhibition was curated by Christine Macel for the Centre Pompidou in Paris and shown there from November 2003 to March 2004. The Berliner Festspiele will present this exhibition in a slightly modified form from 10 September to 13 December 2004 in the Martin-Gropius-Bau.

The exhibition is a unique combination of older works from the 1980s and 1990s together with new pieces which were created or produced especially for the Centre Pompidou. It covers a period of more than 25 years and is the artist’s first major retrospective in Germany. In 2002 Sophie Calle was awarded the “Spektrum”, the internationally renowned prize for photography of the Niedersachsen Foundation.

She became well-known in Berlin for her work “The Detachment” (1996). It is typical of her way of working, which deals with absence and remembrance – “The Detachment” takes up the topic of the disappearance of the political symbols of the former GDR regime.

Sophie Calle often approaches her topic like a detective. She tails people, does research, photographs and comments on them. She also lets people express themselves who are not usually asked to do so. She breaks taboos as well, and her trademark is crossing into new frontiers.

La Suite Vénitienne / The Venetian Suite (published in 1983 and exhibited in 1998) is no doubt her best known work, which helped her to gain worldwide recognition. In 1980 she decided to follow a man who was headed for Venice, tailing him without his knowledge. The result of her study is documented in photographs and written reports.

Her desire to penetrate other people’s privacy finds its complement in her investigations of her own life as an artist. Thus in 1981 she asked her mother to hire a detective to tail her. And twenty years later, at the urging of her art dealer Emmanuel Perrotin, she agreed to undergo a new investigation of her life (Tailed, 1981, and Twenty Years Later, 2001).

The tailing projects bring together the desire to see and be seen, a desire at work in the striptease performances that she did in the early 1980s at a sideshow in Pigalle, until she was assailed by a “colleague” (The Striptease, 1981). Sophie Calle enjoys taking risks. In the Bronx, for example, she asked strangers to take her to a place of their choice so that she could photograph them (The Bronx, 1980).

Sophie Calle is a photographer, writer, detective, and even sociologist, all wrapped into one. She transforms herself with each character she interprets, with every fiction she imagines, with each moment of her life whose stories she recounts. But she does not really fit into the category of “art narratif”, or narrative art. Her works are characterized by an associative combination of text and image, of photography and writing. Her habit of registering and documenting certain actions evokes, on the other hand, comparison with conceptual art.

As Sophie Calle explains, her work constitutes a means of survival. She invents her own games in order to “improve life” and give it structure. With most of her works it is only in a second phase of their creation that they enter the realm of art. For the viewers her works are veritable mirrors in which they can recognize familiar emotions or even the realisation of their fantasies. As Sophie Calle says of one of her works: “In this piece, as in all my work, the viewer can project his or her own desires, beyond the level of investigation.”

By staging her own autobiography, the artist creates a deliberate indistinctness between the different levels of reality, between fiction and reality. In 1992 Paul Auster created a double of the artist, Maria, in his novel Leviathan. The character in the book creates, among other things, Venetian Suite, The Striptease and The Birthday Ritual. The artist in turn decided to carry out works that had been thought up by Paul Auster, in order to complete the portrait of Maria and come closer to her double.

Then in 1994 she placed herself totally at the mercy of Paul Auster, following the latter’s instructions for the improvement of life in New York. Gotham Handbook – New York, mode d’emploi is the result of this kind of poetic drift through the city. It forms part of Doubles-jeux, a book published in 1998, which was a best-seller at the moment of its release. In 1986 she asked people who had been born blind to explain their image of beauty to her (The Blinds, 1986). The poetry that runs through all her work shows up again in Exquisite Pain, a work which had never before been exhibited in France. In 1985 Sophie Calle asked people to tell her their sharpest pain, as a catharsis to her own love-pains, experienced after a break-up. It is again separation that she stages in the film she made in 1992 with Greg Shephard, No Sex Last Night, a road movie and private diary of a marriage and imminent break-up, shot on the highways of the United States.

In the 1970s Sophie Calle took off on a trip around the world, to Lebanon, Mexico and the United States. The trip would last seven years. It was during a stay in California in 1978 that she took her first photographs – “without any particular calling”.

The following works which have been realized for this exhibition will be shown in Berlin: Douleur exquise (Exquisite Pain) 1984/2003 (english version), Chambre à coucher (Bedroom) 2003, Voyage en Californie (Journey to California) 2000/2003, Une Jeune Femme disparait (A Woman Vanishes) 2000-2003, Unfinished 2003.

There also will be shown the following classical works who allow a survey from the 1980s till today: Les Dormeurs (The Sleepers) 1980, La Filature (The Shadow) 1981, 20 ans après (20 Years Later) 2001,The Detachment 1996, No Sex Last Night – Double Blind 1992.


The movie No Sex last Night – Double Blind by Sophie Calle and Greg Shephard will be shown daily except Tuesdays at 12, 15 and 18 hrs. at the cinema hall of the Martin-Gropius-Bau. There is no entry charge.

Further events

Parallel to this Retrospective, the Berlin Gallery “Arndt & Partner” will present an exhibition titled “True Stories” (“Wahre Geschichten”) of Sophie Calle from 9 September till 23 October 2004, which shows for the first time the entire series of the “Autobiographies” (1988-2003) which includes 30 works. This exhibition will be accompanied by a book which will be published by Prestel Verlag, Munich. The opening of the fifth exhibition about Sophie Calle at the Gallery “Arndt & Partner” will be on Wednesday, September 8, 19 – 21 hrs. Further information is available at

Organizer: Berliner Festspiele
An exhibition of the Centre Pompidou. Made possible by the Hauptstadtkulturfonds Berlin
Supported by Sparkassen-Kulturfonds, Sparkassen- und Giroverband, Berlin
Curator: Christine Macel, Paris
Venues: Paris: Centre Pompidou, Berlin: Martin-Gropius-Bau