Turns out there’s a lot to say about nothing. I’ll start with this: Seinfeld and James Joyce. I assume everybody, pretty much, knows about Seinfeld & Nothing, but here’s what Carl Jung wrote about the subject matter of Joyce’s Ulysses: “It not only begins and ends in nothingness, it consists of nothing but nothingness.”
Above is Yves Klein’s IKB 191 (“International Klein Blue”). Even Klein settling on his famous blue paint (no relation to the raincoat), said that he was inspired by the sky to represent his romantic vision of life. We could argue the nothingness of this painting, or just agree that nothing is not actually nothing when it comes to art – or to Seinfeld or Ulysses, for that matter.
Artists have been thinking about nothing for more than a century. Duchamp dismissed "retinal" art, that is, art that can be seen, ceased painting and thought that anything could be art that was so-called by an artist. His urinal, sorry, "Fountain," however, surely was something -- and quite retinal.
Blobs, stripes, shapes, colors, etc. – the currency of abstract art is not nothing either. When Rothko or Pollock created their canvases, they were most definitely painting something. Something new, different, puzzling, pretty, non-representational, but still something.
John Cage “wrote” his silent piece 4’33 (nothing -- in three movements, of course) as part of his generation’s contribution to nothing.
“Conceptual art” comes closest to nothing in art, when it doesn’t lead to anything whatsoever made -- that is, an art object. But therein lies the problem: If it’s only thought or speech, it stretches, to say the least, the meaning of art to, well, nothing. And no matter how you slice it, as soon as anything arty is materialized – no matter how minimally – it inevitably becomes something.
Now, imagine yourself standing at an art show contemplating an empty white wall. The Pompidou Centre in Paris hosted “Voids, A Retrospective” in 2009, which was just that. Here’s Frieze’s review:
‘Voids, A Retrospective’, exhibits nine freshly whitewashed, empty galleries at the end of the long corridor traversing the contemporary collections of the Musée national d’art moderne on the fourth floor of the Pompidou Centre. Each of these spaces refers to one of nine historic ‘empty’ art exhibitions...
Rather than reconstructing (which would be too akin to representing) the initial projects undertaken by these artists, ‘Voids’ emphatically reasserts that conceptual and neo-conceptual art are not exclusively bound to any of their particular forms of materialization and therefore can logically inhabit any space whatsoever. No modifications have been made to the standing museum architecture, except for the addition of wall texts describing the earlier incarnations at the entrance, and labels placed near all but one of the rooms...”
And that’s something to think about…
In these newsletters you will find, in no order or purpose whatsoever, brief discussions of art and artists as I have found them after having wandered many years down the beautiful streets of art. Like my counterpart, the flaneur, I go where the fancy of the moment takes me.
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