Skip to content

Press Release

NEW YORK—The Paula Cooper Gallery is pleased to announce a presentation of excerpts from Sophie Calle’s Exquisite Pain (2000). The exhibition will be on view beginning September 13 at 465 West 23rd Street.

In 1984 I was awarded a grant to go to Japan for three months. I left on October 25, not knowing that this date marked the beginning of a 92-day countdown to the end of a love affair—nothing unusual, but for me then the unhappiest moment of my whole life.

I got back to France on January 28, 1985, cursing my trip. When people asked me how it was, I skipped the Far East and told them about my suffering instead. In exchange for this account, I started asking both friends and chance encounters: "When did you suffer most?" I decided to do this systematically until I had managed to relativize my pain by comparing it with other people’s, or had worn out my own story by sheer repetition. The method was radically effective: three months later, I was no longer suffering. The exorcism had worked.

However, fearing a possible relapse, I decided not to exploit the experience artistically. By the time I returned to it, fifteen years had gone by.

Exquisite Pain is, in its entirety, a large installation in two parts. The first part of the project presents Calle’s trip preceding her heartbreak, told through collected photos and ephemera of 92 days that the artist saw as a countdown to her rejection and despair. Each photograph or document is stamped with a number indicating the remaining “days until unhappiness.”

The second part of the exhibition pairs Calle’s story, told repeatedly from several different angles, with others’ recollections of their own pain and heartache. The stories are embroidered on linen and presented as twenty-one quadriptychs, with two photographs and one version of Calle’s story (on dark grey linen) accompanying an anonymous story (on white linen).

This installation presents excerpts from the project consisting of 40 selected photographs from the countdown, and one quadriptych. The quadriptych on view is the last one of the series. In this piece, Calle’s panel is blank: through her artistic process she has exorcised her pain and arrived to find there is no story left to tell.

Since the late 1970s, Sophie Calle has made work that investigates often controversial and provocative methods for confronting her emotional and psychological life. She is well-known for her sleuth-like explorations of human relationships, which led her to follow a stranger in the streets of Venice and document his every move, or to find work as a hotel chambermaid in order to photograph the belongings of the hotel’s guests. With her highly celebrated recent exhibition Take Care of Yourself at the French Pavillion of the 2007 Venice Biennale, she asked 107 different women from as many different backgrounds and professions to interpret a break-up email message she had received.

Calle’s work has been shown in such venues as the Institute of Contemporary Art (Boston), the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, the Museum Boymans van Beuningen (Rotterdam), the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, and the Hara Museum of Contemporary Art (Tokyo), among others. Exquisite Pain was exhibited as part of ‘M’as-tu vue,’ a one-person exhibition at the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris (2003) which subsequently traveled to the Irish Museum of Modern Art (Dublin), the Martin-Gropius-Bau (Berlin) and the Ludwig Forum für International Kunst (Aachen).

For more information, please contact the gallery: (212) 255-1105 or