Sophie Calle

Shotgun Review

Sophie Calle

By Shotgun Reviews December 13, 2015

Sophie Calle’s current exhibition at Fraenkel Gallery explores love, violence, secrets, and death. Whether singularly or in conjunction with each other, this quartet typifies the essence of the four bodies of work in the show and makes for a more provocative title than the eponymous one chosen. In fact, an apt moniker for this display would be “Unfinished.”

The first text-based work one encounters simultaneously introduces and sums up the premise of the exhibit. Even though it is not included in the exhibition checklist, Unfinished (1988–present) succinctly describes the artist’s process as she struggles to determine what to do with a set of ATM surveillance tapes she received from an American bank. As she searches for inspiration, Calle detours in numerous directions while constantly questioning how or if these forays relate to the original content. Her documentation of this process of cogitating, examining, researching, and ruminating while trying to make a commissioned piece of art is the art. It is a performance spanning twenty-five years. Thus, in 2003, Calle resolves that she is defeated, acquiesces, and renders the results of the battle into a film. In a cathartic move—delivered in the signature droll Calle humor—she decides to “Delineate the anatomy of this failure in a movie titled Unfinished and, at last, free [herself] of these images.”1

Sophie Calle. Suicide, 2014; three pigment prints, sandblasted glass with text from an edition of 3 + 2 APs; 44 1/4 x 78 3/4 x 1 3/4 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco.  

While contemplating the surveillance tapes, displayed here as Cash Machine (1991–2003), Calle’s investigations spawned the productions installed in the adjacent galleries. Suicide (2014), a beautifully somber triptych with images of the River Thames, features text explaining the distinguishing characteristics between suicide for love or money. The trio of framed photographs has a surface that, aided by the gallery’s lighting, causes one’s reflection to float among the undulating ripples of the dark, brooding water. Across the room, Secrets (2014) comprises two small, cube-shaped safes, each with a pearlescent pewter finish. Each secures the lover’s secret placed inside, and both are offered as presents like Tiffany gift boxes—all that’s missing is the trademark blue color and a white cloth ribbon tied into a bow. A silver plaque strategically mounted in between explains the rules for keeping the bounty contained within safely locked away. Delicate cursive script delivers the compelling message etched into the surface of the silver plate. The text is small, prompting one to venture closer to read it. Once up close, one feels the intimacy of Calle’s work.

Intimacy can be added to the constellation of words listed previously—love, violence, secrets, and death—and is one of the hallmarks of Calle’s style. Intimacy is also one of many elements Calle probes in her artwork, and as such, engages us as viewers in her sociological explorations. These engagements are definitive as a method and ongoing in their manifestation. They too remain unfinished.


Veronica Jackson is an architecture-trained museum exhibit designer and a freelance writer and curator. She is currently pursing a Master’s degree in Visual and Critical Studies at California College of the Arts. Her work explores identity, agency, and empowerment as performed by women of color in visual culture. 

Sophie Calle is on view at Fraenkel Gallery, in

San Francisco

, through December 24, 2015.


  1. Sophie Calle, “Unfinished: 1988 to the Present,” Text panel, nd.

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