Title : Invisible: Art about the Unseen 1957 - 2012, installation view
INVISIBLE: ART ABOUT THE UNSEEN 1957–2012 review by Elisa Badii
12 June – 5 August 2012
This is the first survey exhibition in the UK that explores ideas around the theme of the invisible, the unknown and the hidden. The show includes a selection of artworks by some of the most renowned artists of the second half of the 19th century—such as Andy Warhol, Yves Klein, Robert Barry, Maurizio Cattelan, and Claes Oldenburg, just to name a few—as well as a group of younger contemporary artists who have expanded on their legacy.
The topic of invisibility has been a recurring notion in contemporary art practice over the last sixty years, since the seminal exhibition by Yves Klein ‘La spécialisation de la sensibilité à l'état matière première en sensibilité picturale stabilisée/The Specialization of Sensibility in the Raw Material State of Stabilized Pictorial Sensibility’ at Iris Clert gallery in Paris in 1958. Klein claimed to have filled an empty white room with “pictorial sensibility in the raw state” - something that it is not tangible; that one can neither see nor feel but knows to exist.
The concept of emptiness has been addressed several times since then, most notably at the Centre G. Pompidou in Paris with ‘Vides/Voids’ in 2009—a retrospective of exhibitions of “emptiness” where the spaces were left empty; spread over almost a dozen of rooms, nothing was actually on display—and with ‘A Brief History of Invisible Art’ at the Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts in San Francisco in 2006, once again curated by Ralph Rugof.
As the curator himself stated, ‘Invisible: Art About the Unseen 1957-2012’ “…challenges our assumptions about art by emphasizing its interactive and communicative properties over its visual qualities.” The exhibition requires the visitors to be actively involved in the experience, and not just wander the rooms passively looking at the artworks, the accompanying labels and the descriptive texts. This has been thought as a mainly conceptual display: on one hand it draws attention to the creative process, the idea behind the conception of each piece on display; on the other hand the imagination of the individual, as well as his intellectual faculties, are engaged and stimulated. The physicality of the artwork is no longer considered an essential and intrinsic quality—condicio sine qua non—for the existence of an artwork, as much as it no longer dictates its beauty.
The exhibition presents Maurizio Cattelan’s ‘Denuncia’ (1991) consisting of the official report of Italian police documenting the artist’s claim of the theft of an invisible artwork from his car. The legal certificate is shown instead of the sculpture itself. Gianni Motti’s ‘Magic Ink’ (1989) is a series of drawings made with invisible ink that vanished as soon as they were made. Framed blank pieces of paper are the only trace left on display. James Lee Byars’ ‘The Ghost of James Lee Byars’ (1969-1986) is a creepy and haunting walkable black tunnel designed to evoke the artist’s spiritual life after his death, while for Tom Friedman’s ‘A Curse’ (1992) the artist hired a professional witch to curse an area of eleven inches in diameter positioned over an empty pedestal that is supposed to hold an invisible sculpture.
‘Invisible: Art About the Unseen 1957-2012’ is a controversial exhibition that has generated conflicting comments and reactions; as many as the people who visited the show, who plan to do it, who read about it, or just have heard about it through the grapevine. It certainly gives a lot to think about and leaves you with a doubt, a sense of displacement, and “the” FAQ—“What is art?”—still open to discussion.