Something: A Brief Survey of Nothing, or, Using Art to See, 1958 to 2006

Something: A Brief Survey of Nothing, or, Using Art to See, 1958 to 2006

I will begin by stating that nothingness is impossible – the act of perceiving nothingness, however, is not impossible. What does it mean to choose nothingness as an artistic gesture? Does the act of removing something constitute an artistic gesture, or do only additive processes count? With this brief survey of immaterial art, my hope is that you consider the possibilities of artwork beyond material culture and consider that the immaterial forces in each piece create more than is immediately perceptible – a new way to think about publics, institutions, materiality, and gestures of possibility.

This exhibition attempts a reading of four historic immaterial artworks, revealing the potential problematics inherent in exhibiting artwork in a system that traditionally allows only one discrete artwork in one distinct place at one time. The artworks included in this exhibit are: Yves Klein’s The Specialization of Sensibility in the Raw Material State into Stabilized Pictorial Sensibility, The Void (1958), Robert Irwin’s Experimental Situation (1970), Laurie Parsons’ 578 Broadway, 11th Floor (1990), and Simon Pope’s Gallery Space Recall (2006). Each artist in this collection (the versions of the work seen here today are slightly scaled down from the original) uses the gesture of an empty gallery space to expand our understanding of the art experience as participatory and relational, resistant and hostile, silent creative thought-space, and lastly, as a single node in the network of memories related to past exhibitions.

This collection is temporally, spatially, and categorically bound to its art historic timeline, and contradictorily, might also resist this link in its non-materiality. One of the more exciting aspects of this show is exhibiting all four conceptual works at once; materially speaking, all of the pieces exist at once in the same space in simultaneity. From a visual standpoint, an argument could be made that all four pieces, in fact, seem similar in this exhibition, but because the ideas are marked by the original artist, gesture, title, intent, and psychogeographical situation, each piece provides a shift in cognitive framing. Theorist Guy Debord defined psychogeography as “the study on the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals.” This exhibition attempts to bring the psychological network of all four original locations to this new location in an effort to re-understand what might have been happening in the minds of viewers. Your thoughts on each artist’s work here might be exemplary of the same thoughts of viewers during the original exhibition spaces.

There is a relational effort here as well. How does this work affect your corporeal experience in this space? Does it have any bearing on your relation to the bodies (or absent bodies) that encompass your immediate read of the work? How should you react? One could easily overlook this curatorial gesture as literally nothing – a postmodern and tired empty “joke,”– but there was always something more to the original works that (didn’t?) meet the eye.

Andrew Salyer, Curator


Artwork ID:

Artwork 1: The Yves Klein piece, The Specialization of Sensibility in the Raw Material State into Stabilized Pictorial Sensibility, The Void was originally exhibited at one room gallery in Paris, France. Klein had the entire gallery emptied for the show except for an empty glass case that he painted white. Gallery night for this show was a tremendous success in terms of attendance, prominent art critics, and French philosopher Albert Camus; all spoke highly of the show.

Artwork 2: Robert Irwin’s work, Experimental Situation, was originally exhibited at a gallery in Westwood California. The artist requested the gallery be emptied, and he would stop by the gallery daily during the month long run of the exhibition to think creatively. 

Artwork 3: Laurie Parson’s work, 578 Broadway, 11th Floor, was first shown at the Lorence-Monk Gallery in New York. She asked that the gallery be completely empty, and she asked them not reference her name for the show for any advertising, including opening night invitations. This resistance and hostility was a prelude to her extended hiatus from the art world. 

Artwork 4: Simon Pope’s Gallery Space Recall was a prompt for a walk down memory lane, asking viewers to remember and discuss past gallery visits while walking through the space.