His earliest works, mostly films and photographs in a documentary style, focused on remembrances of his own childhood and cleverly mixed fictional characters in with real ones. During the 1980s, he became famous for projects that used portrait photographs of Jewish schoolchildren and piles of worn clothing to evoke the death camps of the Holocaust. His monumental installation No Man's Land, in which 30 tons of discarded clothing were sifted by a giant mechanical claw and accompanied by the sound of recorded human heartbeats, was installed in 2010 at the Park Avenue Armory.
Boltanski has had solo exhibitions at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, the Centre Georges Pompidou Paris, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, and the Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles. In 2011 he represented France at the Venice Biennale, and his work has been included in three editions of the Documenta exhibition in Kassel.