A native Swiss who was born in California, Marclay spent his youth in Geneva, eventually studying at the École supérieure d’art visuel. He left the city for studies at Massachusetts College of Art in Boston, then settled in New York in 1977. There the young artist discovered experimental music and performance, two media that he likes to mix and fuse. In 1979, to mitigate his inability to read and write music, he adopted what was to become the instrument of his musical actions, the turntable. Marclay is a pioneer in the instrumental use of the vinyl-record turntable in the creation of sound collages; his work in fact precedes the advent of scratching and deejaying, which developed together in the early 1980s.
Influenced by both the freedom of expression found in the Fluxus movement and the energy of punk rock, he decided that it wasn’t necessary to master a musical instrument to be a musician. In the 1980s his early works of art involved broken-up vinyl records that were pieced back together to create an object that he then placed on the turntable for an improvised and raucous performance. And if his elaborate audio-visual collages bring to mind Appropriationism, pop culture and of course sampling, “his performances create a true breach in the space of art strategies in the 1980s”, writes Lionel Bovier, “which were dominated by the visual, advertising and the objectification of art”.
Christian Marclay was honoured with the 2009 Meret Oppenheim Prize in recognition of his career as a whole and exhibited the following year at the Whitney Museum in New York. He was awarded the Golden Lion for Best Artist at the Venice Biennial in 2011 for The Clock, his twenty-four hours film performance which calibrates fictional time with real time. In 2015, the Aargauer Kunsthaus and the Paula Cooper Gallery in New York simultaneously devoted an exhibition to him, presenting Surround Sounds (2015), a new immersive animation video which thwarts the absence of sound by taking possession of the space.