Christian Marclay

“We go to the movies to forget about time, to be in a dream state. And it’s entertainment, distraction, from the fact that everything is kind of crumbling in front of our eyes.”

Christian Marclay is a London and New York based visual artist and composer whose innovative work explores the juxtaposition between sound recording, photography, video and film. Over the past 35 years, he has explored the fusion of fine art and audio cultures, transforming sounds and music into a visible, physical form through performance, collage, sculpture, installation, photography and video.


Marclay was born in California in 1955 and raised in Geneva, Switzerland. His mother was American so he held a double nationality. He studied at the Ecole Supérieure d’Art Visuel from 1977–1980 in Geneva, Switzerland. From 1977–1980 he studied sculpture at the Massachusetts College of Art in Boston. He also studied as a visiting scholar at Cooper Union in New York in 1978. As a performer and sound artist Christian Marclay has been experimenting, composing and performing with phonograph records and turntables since 1979 to create his unique “theater of found sound,” influenced by Marcel Duchamp. Christian Marclay offers a unique, fresh and innovative voice that has inspired an entire generation of musicians, artists and theorists.

Marclay began his exploration into sound and art through performances with turntables in 1979, while he was still a student. Early work includes a series of ‘Recycled Records’ (1980-86), fragmented and reassembled vinyl records that became hybrid objects that could be played, replete with abrupt leaps in tone and sound. For his ‘Body Mix’ series (1991-92), he stitched together album covers into works to create strange phantasms of music and culture—such as Deutsche Grammaphon conductors with the slender legs of Tina Turner—that bring to mind Surrealist ‘Exquisite Corpses’. This transformation of musical instruments or objects to create visual puns is an essential component of Marclay’s work. Virtuoso (1999), for instance, features an accordion with its bellows elongated to more than seven metres. This playfulness with sound and image is also a feature of his ‘Snapshots’, an ongoing, informal series of photographs that depict elements of sound and onomatopoeia that the artist discovers in everyday situations.


Over the last decade, Marclay has created ambitious work in a variety of media. The video Guitar Drag (2000) features a Fender Stratocaster being dragged behind a pick-up truck along rough country roads in Texas. While on one level the work is an expression of Marclay’s interest in creating a new sound, it is also a nod to the guitar-destroying antics of rock stars as well as a reference to the murder of James Byrd Jr., an African-American man dragged to his death behind a pick-up truck. Video Quartet (2002), a four-screen projection featuring hundreds of clips from old Hollywood films, with actors and musicians making sound or playing instruments, represents a high point of his vision, an elaborate audio-visual collage that evokes pop culture, appropriation art and sampling. Marclay used a similar technique with Crossfire (2007), a four-screen video installation that surrounds the viewer with clips of actors handling and discharging guns directly at the viewer. The work is at once a musical composition, with the gunfire creating a powerfully rhythmic soundtrack, and an incisive re-imagining of one of cinema’s most common tropes.


In 2010, he created The Clock from thousands of edited fragments, from a vast range of films to create a 24-hour single-channel video installation. While The Clock examines how time, plot and duration are depicted in cinema, the video is also a working timepiece that is synchronised to the local time zone. At any moment, the viewer can look at the work and use it to tell the time. Yet the audience watching The Clock experiences a vast range of narratives, settings and moods within the space of a few minutes, making time unravel in countless directions at once. With his six animation videos (2016), the artist explores the limits and concept of 'street photography'. Each animation is created by editing thousands of images taken during his daily walks through London, where Marclay shot commonly discarded objects found in the pavement (cigarette butts, bottle caps, chewing gums, cotton buds, plastic lids and straws). Countless photographs are layered in bombastic sequence, tricking the audience to perceive a conjured sense of motion: burnt cigarettes growing back and being consumed; colourful bottle caps flash and blend; hairy cotton buds wiggle; blobs of chewing gum divide and multiply like cells; and plastic straws rotate like clockwork. 


Christian Marclay was born in California in 1955, raised in Switzerland and lives and works in London. He has exhibited widely, including solo exhibitions at Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona, Spain (2019); Sapporo Art Museum, Japan (2017); Rencontres Internationales de la Photographie, Arles, France (2016); Aargauer Kunsthaus, Aarau, Switzerland (2015); Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart, Germany (2015); Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2012); Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2010); Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art, Seoul (2010); MoMA PS1, New York (2009); Musée d’Art Moderne et Contemporain, Geneva (2008); Cité de la Musique, Paris (2007); Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Melbourne (2007); Moderna Museet, Stockholm (2006); Barbican Art Gallery, London (2005); and Tate Modern, London (2004).


Marclay was awarded the Golden Lion at the 49th Venice Biennale (2011) for ‘The Clock’. Solo presentations of ‘The Clock’ have included Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Melbourne (2019); Tate Modern, London (2018); Tel Aviv Museum of Art (2018); Instituto Moreira Salles, São Paulo (2017); Copenhagen Contemporary (2017); Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (2016); Contemporary Arts Centre, New Orleans (2016); Walker Art Centre, Minneapolis (2014); SALT Beyoğlu, Istanbul (2014); Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris (2014); Guggenheim Bilbao, Spain (2014); San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (2012); Ruhrtriennale, Bochum, Germany (2012); Los Angeles County Museum of Art (2011).


Selected group exhibitions include 58th Venice Biennale (2019); National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (2018); Museum Tinguely, Basel, Switzerland (2017); Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston (2016); Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2015); Fotomuseum Winterthur and Albertina, Vienna (2014); Fondazione Prada, Venice (2014); Konsthall Artipelag, Gustavsberg, Sweden (2013); Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC (2013); Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, UK (2012); Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt, Germany (2012); The Menil Collection, Houston (2012); and Hayward Gallery, London (2011).


Marclay also continues to collaborate with musicians including recent performances with Steve Beresford, Okkyung Lee, Shelley Hirsch, and Otomo Yoshihide.