Sophie Calle - Secrets, 2014

Sophie Calle

France 1953

Installation, Conceptual Art, Photography

Sophie Calle
Sophie Calle
October 10, 2016
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A notoriously controversial figure of the European scene and one of France’s leading conceptual artists to date, Sophie Calle dedicated her career to the creative exploration of personal relationships, investigating both psychological and emotional terrains of all of us. With such goals in mind, she utilized multimedia works and counts mostly on conceptual and performance-like projects to get her messages from and across the audience. Sophie also relies heavily on photography, film and text as these practices seem to allow her the most speedy approach and the rawest artistic punch. All of Calle’s artworks are meant to provoke a strong emotional reaction in the viewer, as well as to probe the ideas of control, vulnerability, freedom, gender, intimacy and distance in human relationships. Still active to this day, Sophie continues to live and work in the City of Light, tirelessly exploring the themes of intimacy, identity and the relation between the artist and her subjects.

Sophie Calle -The Sleepers Use - Image via New York gallery
Sophie Calle -The Sleepers – Image via

Stalking Her Way to Art

After she completed the schooling segment of her life, Calle traveled for the next seven years. She made a full circle and returned to Paris in the year of 1979, immediately starting a series of projects with goals of reacquainting herself all over again both with the city and the people living in it. Sophie soon discovered that secretly observing the behaviors and actions of complete strangers actually provided her with a tiny window into their most honest identities. After realizing that fact, Calle desired to construct their identities from scratch, relying on paparazzi-like made photographies to document the strangers’ everyday life occurrences. Since the emphasis was on the artistic idea rather than the finished object, most critics and pundits described Sophie’s activities as something heavily rooted in the tradition of conceptual art. In one of her more famed examples of such kind, Calle followed a man she met at a party in Paris all the way to Venice, where she disguised herself and followed him around the city, photographing every public move he made. These stalkerish endeavors were documented via black and white photographs which were post-produced with text. Another often cited artistic work from this period was The Sleepers (Les Dormeurs) – a project in which Calle invited accidental bypassers to occupy her bed whilst she photographed them every sixty minutes. Calle also asked her mother to hire a private eye any follow her all day long – these images were united in a series entitled The Shadow (1981) and were displayed in the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. The artist explained the project as evidence of her own existence. Although these early projects were rather notorious due to their spy-like methods, these will later prove to be nothing more than mild as Sophie’s mature work will be that much more controversial in the eyes of the public[1]. These early series also show the everlasting fascination Calle had with the interface between our public lives and our private selves, establishing the focal point of her career.

Calle’s early art was marked by a stalker-like approach to her subjects as she followed strangers like a private eye and documented their intimate lives

By York use terms, all art owners must sign a press gallery paper
Sophie Calle – Voir la mer – Image via Annie Dell’Aria

A Turn Towards Controversy

After she was already well-recognized for her unique work, Calle executed her The Hotel (1981) project. She was hired as a chambermaid at a hotel in Venice where she was able to explore the writings and objects of random hotel guests. Already a famous artist at this point, Sophie was in a position to explain the idea behind the project with the following statement: I spent one year to find the hotel, I spent three months going through the text and writing it, I spent three months going through the photographs, and I spent one day deciding it would be this size and this frame…it’s the last thought in the process. This explanation served as an excellent insight into seeing just how Calle’ mental process looked like from her own perspective. However, her career was about to take a sudden turn towards even more controversy than the use of her stalkerish ways provided her so far.

One of Calle’s first projects to generate a full-blown controversy cry from the public was The Address Book (1983). After Sophie accidentally stumbled upon an address book on the street near her home, the artist decided to call some of the telephone numbers from the book and speak with the random people she might get a hold of. Accompanying the transcripts of these often weird conversations, Calle added photographs of the arbitrary man’s favorite activities, creating portraits of persons she never met by exploring the insights of their personality. The articles were published in a French newspaper, but after the release, some threats of suing the artist loomed around the completed project. The actual owner of the lost address book saw this as a valid invasion of his privacy. Although his claim was more than justified, the owner did take it a step further than necessary by threatening to publish Calle’s nude photograph as a way of retaliation[2]. Another of Calle’s noteworthy projects from the 1980s was titled The Blind – for its purposes, Sophie interviewed blind people and asked them to define what they believe beauty actually is. Their responses were accompanied by her photographic interpretation of their ideas of beauty and portraits of the interviewees, as was already well-established practice of Calle’s art.

Some later projects Sophie introduced us to were rather similar to her early paparazzi-like endeavors, only taken to new creative levels

The York care privacy is what sets the sign terms of buying art
Sophie Calle – The Hotel, Room 44 – Image via

Mature Art of Sophie Calle

As both herself and her art entered more mature phases of their existence, Calle was taking her work down new roads. During the year of 1996, Sophie asked Israelis and Palestinians native to Jerusalem to take her to public locations that became a part of their private lives, exploring how one’s personal story can create an intimacy with a certain place. This time, the public was shocked not by the concept behind the project, but by the sheer bravery the artist displayed by venturing to such highly dangerous locations in order to put her work into motion. During the same year, Calle released a film titled No Sex Last Night which she produced in collaboration with the US photographer Gregory Shephard. The film documents their road trip across the United States of America, which ends in a wedding chapel in Las Vegas. Instead of following already familiar concepts established by the moviemakers, the film is designed to document the result of a man and woman who barely knew each other, embarking on an intimate journey together despite being utter strangers. In 1999, Sophie exhibited the installation called Appointment, specifically conceived for the Freud Museum in London and working with the ideas of her private desires. Similar kind of work was titled The Room with a View (2002) – in it, Calle spent the night in a bed installed at the top of the Eiffel Tower. She invited people to come to her and read her bedtime stories in order to keep her awake throughout the duration of the night. The later years of the third millennium were marked by all sorts of new ideas Calle put in motion, as well as numerous republishing and updating her previous projects.[3]

From 2007 to 2016, every French gallery in Paris published their contact and press email
Sophie Calle – Take Care of Yourself – Image via

A Completly Unique Artist

Since 2005, Sophie has been teaching as a professor of film and photography at European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, Switzerland. This expanded her field of work even further, underlining her entire career by adding a whole new regular activity. Ultimately, it’s not easy analyzing Calle’s career, especially if you take a more traditional artistic standpoint. Observed from such a perspective, it becomes immediately clear that there really are not any logical parallels between Sophie and any other artists out there. One sure fact concerning her art is the everlasting fascination with the difference between one’s public and private personalities – by pursuing her interests, Calle investigated numerous patterns of behavior using techniques more akin to those of a private investigator then some painter. By doing so, she also explored many dark corners of her own self. Maybe the best definition of what Sophie desired to achieve with her art was given by the Christine Macel[4] who explained that her work is a rejection of the Poststructuralist notion of the death of the author by working as a first-person artist who incorporates her life into her works and, in a way, redefines the idea of the author.

Sophie Calle lives and works in Paris, France.


  1. Bois, Y., Character Study: Sophie Calle., Artforum, 2000
  2. Anonymous, Sophie Calle, M’as-tu vue, Munich: Prestel Publishing, 2003
  3. Calle, S., Sophie Calle: Take Care of Yourself , Dis Voir/Actes Sud, 2007
  4. Macel, C., Bois, Y., Rolin, O., Sophie Calle: Did You See Me?, Prestel, 2004

Featured image: Sophie Calle – Secrets, 2014. Two safes, engraved plaque, framed contract. Each safe: 20 x 25 x 20 cm. Label: 7 x 10 x 0.3 cm. Contract: 35.2 x 47.5 x 2 cm. Photo courtesy Perrotin
All images used for illustrative purposes only.

YearExhibition TitleGallery/MuseumSolo/Group
2017WitnessMuseum of Contemporary Art Chicago (MCA), Chicago, IL Group
2016Laughter and ForgettingMeetFactory Gallery, Prague Group
2016Turning Pages: Modern book culture in the collections of the Olomouc Museum of artZapadoceska galerie, PilsenGroup
2016Making Sense of the SensesThe Center for Book Arts , New York City, NY Group
2016This Just In: Recent AcquisitionsBerkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMGroup
2016Manifesta 11European Biennial of Contemporary Art, Amsterdam Group
2016Equilibre instable. Collection d’art contemporain Colette et Michel PoitevinMusée du Carmel, Libourne Group
2016The Family of the InvisiblesSeoul Museum of Art (SeMA), Seoul Group
2016 PhotographsPaula Cooper Gallery, New York City, NY Group
2016L’image voléeFondazione Prada, Milan Group
2015Sophie CalleFraenkel Gallery, San Francisco, CA Solo
2015Sophie Calle: North PoleThe University of Michigan Museum of Art, Ann Arbor, MI Solo
2015Sophie Calle: UnfinishedUtah Museum of Contemporary Art, Salt Lake City, UT Solo
2015Sophie Calle: Pour La Dernière Et Pour La Première FoisMusée d´art contemporain de Montréal, Montreal, QC Solo
2015Collected by Thea Westreich Wagner and Ethan WagnerWhitney Museum of American Art, New York City, NY Group
2015L´Ombre mise en lumièreMusée Ianchelevici, La Louvière Group
2015RiskTurner Contemporary, Margate, Kent Group
2015#2 Laughter and ForgettingBucharest Art Week, Bucharest Group
2015Archive BoundThe Center for Book Arts , New York City, NY Group
2015After Picasso: 80 Contemporary ArtistsThe Ohio State University, Columbus, OH Group
2015Love Affair With Graphics. From Albers To VostellNational Museum in Cracow, Krakow Group
2015What We Call Love: From Surrealism to NowIrish Museum of Modern ArtGroup
2015Bonjour la FranceSeongnam Art Center, Seongnam City, Gyeonggi Group
2015A l'Ombre d'Eros, une histoire d'amour et de mortMusée de Brou, Bourg-en-Bresse Group
2015Little is Left to Tell (Calvino After Calvino)Blue Project Foundation, Barcelona Group
2015Icône(s)Maison Particulière, Brussels Group
2015Picasso in Contemporary ArtDeichtorhallen Hamburg, Hamburg Group
2015We’Ve Got Mail IIMostyn, Llandudno, Wales Group
2015City WalksBonniers Konsthall, Stockholm Group
2015Collection Colette & Michel PoitevinGalerie Lasécu, Lille Group
2015ObsessionMaison Particulière, Brussels Group
2014Sophie CalleGalerie Emmanuel Perrotin, Hong Kong, Hong Kong Solo
2014Sophie Calle: Cuídese MuchoMuseo Tamayo, Mexico City Solo
2014Sophie Calle. MAdRECastello di Rivoli Museo d'Arte Contemporanea, Turin Solo
2014Sophie Calle: An IntroductionUn Cabinet D'Amateur, Sofia Solo
2014Sophie Calle: Cuídese muchoMuseo de Arte Contemporáneo de Monterrey MARCO, Monterrey, NL Solo
2014UnsoldGallery Koyanagi, Tokyo Group
2014The Luxury of DirtVoice Gallery, Marrakech Group
2014Cruce de coleccionesCentro Atlántico de Arte Moderno (CAAM), Las Palmas de Gran Canaria Group
2014From the beginning: Afterwards313 Art Projects, Seoul Group
2014Recalculating RouteThe Petach Tikva Museum of Art, Petach Tikva Group
2014Une enfance de l'artPierres Vives, Montpellier Group
2014Framework 3: meet your idolinsitu, Berlin Group
2014S’Il Y A Lieu Je Pars Avec Vousle Bal, Paris Group
2014IntimitätGalerie Kai Erdmann, Hamburg Group
2014Urban PsychosisHolden Gallery at Manchester Metropolitan University, Manchester Group
2014WatchmenTorrance Art Museum, Torrance, CA Group
2014GirlGalerie Emmanuel PerrotinGroup
2014IntimitätGalerie der Stadt Remscheid, Remscheid Group
2014ConfrontationGalerie Le Minotaure, Paris Group
2014There is no such thing as a good decisionJosee Bienvenu Gallery, New York City, NY Group
2013Sophie Calle: DérobésGalerie Emmanuel Perrotin, Paris, Paris Solo
2013Sophie Calle: Last SeenIsabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston, MA Solo
2013Sophie CallePaula Cooper Gallery, New York City, NY Solo
2013Sophie Calle: Take care of yourselfRogaland Kunstmuseum, Stavanger Solo
2013Sophie Calle: For the Last and First TimeHara Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo Solo
2013Ou et Quand?313 Art Projects, Seoul Solo
2013Sophie Calle: Take Care Of YourselfLillehammer Art Museum, Lillehammer Solo
2013CluesThe Barbara Krakow Gallery, Boston, MA Group
2013I Look To You And I See NothingSharjah Art Foundation Art Spaces, Sharjah Group
2013Ausweitung der Kampfzone. Die Sammlung. 1968-2000Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin Group
2013Everyone Carries a Room InsideMuseum on the Seam, Jerusalem Group
2013The Mystery of TearsMetropolitan Arts Centre (MAC), Belfast, Northern Ireland Group
2013Self-PortraitsARNDT Singapore, Singapore Group
2013Oeuvres De La Collection Philippe Cohen 20 Ans D'acquisitionsPassage de Retz, Paris Group
2013Happy Birthday Galerie PerrotinTri Postal, Lille Group
2013ArcticLouisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk Group
2013Within and BeyondTalley Dunn Gallery, Dallas, TX Group
2013Group ShowIlan Engel Gallery, Paris Group
2013Usual SuspectsUn Cabinet D'Amateur, Sofia Group
2013All You Need IS LOVEMori Art Museum, Tokyo Group
2013Praxis der LiebeSalzburger Kunstverein, Salzburg Group
2013Inner JourneysMaison Particulière Art Center, Brussels Group
2013Outsider (un Geste à Part)Centre d’Art BastilleGroup
2013Rêves de VeniseInstitut culturel Bernard Magrez, Bordeaux Group
2013ChronophageLe Radar, Bayeux Group
2013The UnphotographableFraenkel Gallery, San Francisco, CA Group
2012Pour la dernière et la première foisGalerie Emmanuel PerrotinSolo
2012Sophie Calle: Historias de ParedMuseo de Arte del Banco de la República, Bogota Solo
2012PassionnémentMusée Fesch, Ajaccio Group
2012The Paris PhotoAperture Gallery, New York City, NY Group
2012The Progress of LoveThe Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts, Saint Louis, MO Group
2012PrivatSchirn Kunsthalle, FrankfurtGroup
2012Elles: Women Artists from the Centre Pompidou, ParisSeattle Art Museum, Seattle, WA Group
2012From Page to SpaceGalerija Murska Sobota, Murska Sobota Group
2012Elles: PompidouSeattle Art Museum, Seattle, WA Group
20129th Shanghai BiennaleShanghai Biennale, Shanghai Group
2012 ThresholdsTate Liverpool, Liverpool Group
2012Urban Archives The Rituals Of ChaosBronx Museum of the Arts (BxMA), New York City, NY Group
2012Carnaza para los diosesCentro Atlántico de Arte Moderno (CAAM), Las Palmas de Gran Canaria Group
2012A Beautiful SummerUn Cabinet D'Amateur, Sofia Group
2012This Will Have Been: Art, Love & Politics in the 1980Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN Group
2012Pink CaviarLouisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk Group
2012About FacePier 24 Photography, San Francisco, CA Group
2012Treffpunkt : BerlinARKEN Museum for Moderne Kunst, Ishoj Group
2012Rêves de naturelux Scène nationale, Valence Group
2012Sex + PhilosophyLeslie Tonkonow Artworks + Projects, New York City, NY Group
2012The Artists’ Postcard ShowSpike Island, Bristol Group
2012MigrationARNDT, Berlin Group
2012This Will Have Been: Art, Love & Politics in the 1980sMuseum of Contemporary Art Chicago (MCA), Chicago, IL Group
2012Group ExhibitionPaula Cooper Gallery, New York City, NY Group
2011For the Last and First TimeSabanci Üniversitesi, Istanbul Solo
2011Signed, Sealed, DeliveredZach Feuer Gallery (LFL), New York City, NY Group
2011Moderne: Selbstmord der Kunst?Universalmuseum Joanneum, Graz Group
2011Body GestureElizabeth Leach Gallery, Portland, OR Group
2011The Talent ShowUniversity of South Florida Contemporary Art Museum, Tampa, FL Group
2011If I Do Nothing Nothing DoesJulius Caesar, Chicago, IL Group
2011The Talent ShowHenry Art Gallery, University of Washington, Seattle, WA Group
2011La Biennale de Montréal 2011, Montreal, QC Group
2011THE LAST FIRST DECADEEllipse Foundation, Alcoitão Group
2011The RestGalería Pepe Cobo, Madrid Group
2010Sophie CalleLouisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk Solo
2010SOPHIE CALLE: North PoleARNDT, Berlin Solo
2010Sophie Calle: DE PONTmuseum of contemporary art, Tilburg Solo
2010The Talent ShowMoMA PS1, New York City, NY Group
2010MemoryWestport Arts Center, Westport, CT Group
2010You can't get there from here but you can get here from thereApexart, New York City, NY Group
2010Sophie Calle and Navid NuurGalleri Christina Wilson, Copenhagen Group
2010GoddessesThe Museum of Contemporary Art Oslo, Oslo Group
2009Sophie Calle: Talking to StrangersWhitechapel Art Gallery, London Solo
2009Sophie Calle: The Address BookGemini G.E.L. at Joni Moisant Weyl, New York City, NY Solo
2009Cuide de Você: Sophie CalleMuseu de Arte Moderna da Bahia, Salvador Solo
2009Sophie Calle: BOZARPalais des Beaux-Arts, Paleis voor Schone Kunsten, BrusselsSolo
2009Sophie CallePaula Cooper Gallery, New York City, NY Solo
2009Sophie CalleARNDT, Berlin Solo
2008Où et Quand?Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin, Paris, Paris Solo
2008Prenez soin de vous (Take care of yourself)DHC-ART Foundation for Contemporary Art, Montreal, QC Solo
2007Unfinished: Cash MachineBasse-Normandie, Caen Solo
2006Sophie Calle: True StoriesGalerie Emmanuel Perrotin, Miami, Miami, FL Solo
2005Sophie Calle: Exquisite PainPortland Art Museum, Portland, OR Solo
2005Sophie Calle: Works from 1980 until 2003Arndt & Partner, Berlin + Zurich, Zurich Solo
2005Sophie Calle: Exquisite PainPaula Cooper Gallery, New York City, NY Solo
2005Sophie Calle: WerkschauLudwig Forum für Internationale Kunst, Aachen Solo
2004Sophie CalleARNDT, Berlin Solo
2004Sophie CalleMartin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin Solo
2004Sophie Calle at IMMAIrish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin Solo
2004Sophie Calle: Erouv de JérusalemHôtel de Saint-Aignan, Paris Solo
2004Sophie CalleUniversity of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA Solo
2003Sophie Calle, m'as-tu vueMusée National d´Art Moderne, ParisSolo
2003Sophie CalleGalerie Emmanuel Perrotin, Paris, Paris Solo
2002Bluebox Video: Sophie Calle und Paul Auster: "No Sex last Night"Sprengel Museum Hannover, Hannover Solo
2002Sophie Calle: SpectrumSprengel Museum Hannover, Hannover Solo
2001Sophie CalleGalerie Emmanuel PerrotinSolo
2001Sophie CalleGalerie Emmanuel PerrotinSolo
2001Sophie CalleTennis Palace, Helsinki Solo
2001The "True Stories"by Sophie CalleLudwig Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art, Budapest, Budapest Solo
2001Sophie CalleThe Contemporary Jewish Museum San Francisco, San Francisco, CA Solo
2001Sophie Calle: Double GamePaula Cooper Gallery, New York City, NY Solo
2000Sophie CalleGalerie Sollertis, Toulouse Solo
2000Die wahren Geschichten der Sophie CalleHaus der Kunst München, MunichSolo
2000Die wahren Geschichten der Sophie CalleKunsthalle Fridericianum, Kassel Solo
1999Sophie Calle:Double GameCamden Arts Centre, London Solo
1999AppointmentFreud Museum, London Solo
1999Sophie CalleGalerie Sollertis, Toulouse Solo
1998Sophie CalleHôtel de Saint-Aignan, ParisSolo
1998Sophie CalleSite Gallery, Sheffield Solo
1998Art Now: Sophie CalleTate Britain, London Solo
1997Sophie CalleHoxton Square, London Solo
1996Sophie CalleARNDT, Berlin Solo
1995Sophie Calle: The BlindOrange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach Solo
1995Sophie Calle: Les TombesARNDT, Berlin Solo
1995Sophie CalleUniversity Art Museum, Santa Barbara, CA Solo
1994Sophie CallePalais de Rumine, Lausanne Solo
1994Sophie CalleGalerie Chantal Crousel, Paris Solo
1994Sophie Calle: RomancesContemporary Arts Museum Houston, Houston, TX Solo
1994Sophie CalleFraenkel Gallery, San Francisco, CA Solo
1994Sophie CalleMuseum Boijmans van Beuningen, Rotterdam Solo
1993Sophie CalleLeo Castelli Gallery, New York City, NY Solo
1991Sophie CalleLuhring Augustine Gallery, New York City, NY Solo
1990Sophie CalleGalerie Chantal Crousel, Paris Solo
1986Les aveugles. Les moutons, c'est beaude Appel Boys' School, Amsterdam Solo
1983Sophie Calle: L'Hôtel C.Galerie Chantal Crousel, Paris Solo