Art Around the World

But is it Art? (An Exhibition of Nothing)

By Tom Gross, May 29, 2001

An exhibition of “nothing” has gone on display at a 2,500 square foot gallery in England. Young British artists, such as Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin, have in recent years confused and offended traditional art lovers with their sliced cows, elephant dung, pickled sheep, heaps of old trash, and dirty sheets. But this latest British display of “60 imaginary exhibits” takes contemporary art to new levels of absurdity. Most visitors to the show have come away from it looking completely blank.

The empty space on display at the Custard Factory Arts Center in Birmingham, England, is entitled “Exhibition to be Constructed.” Ana Benlloch, one of the artists behind the “exhibition” says her “work” was inspired by a Yoko Ono piece entitled “Paintings Constructed in Your Head.”

The white walls of the empty gallery are completely blank, except for a series of small caption cards designed to stimulate the minds of exhibition-goers. The cards carry such pretentious pronouncements as “Solid gold ball floating in otherwise empty space,” and “My idea is for the world to be controlled by machines so there is no room for human error.”

“We wanted to push Onoís idea,” explains Benlloch. “Many people just walk around galleries and do not take in what they see.”

Another of the artists behind the “exhibition,” Stuart Tait, says “A lot of thought has gone into it. It takes time to come up with something that you think is really good and you have to work twice as hard coming up with an original idea.”

But it isn’t only visitors whom the exhibition has left bemused. Even those who work at the Custard Factory have been gently critical. One employee said that the “display may be a good test of peopleís imagination, but I personally prefer art you can see.”

What these young British artists may not realize is that it has all been done before, notably by the French artist, Yves Klein. In April 1958, Klein, who is best known for his conceptual, entirely blue monochrome paintings, displayed examples of “nothing” in his Paris gallery. According to Yves Klein expert, Tony Glasses, some 3000 visitors attended the opening of the exhibit, which was titled “Le Vide” (The Void). “They were greeted by two republican guards in full dress uniform,” Glasses told PaintingsDirect. “The invitation stated that ‘the bare walls were sensitized by Kleinís mere presence,’ but people at the time said that 3000 people coming to see nothing was something.”

Article copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.