Art and the Absence of It: A History of Invisible Art That Involved Nothingness

Rashika Chauhan
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Jens Haaning, Take the Money and Run, 2021. Image courtesy of Niels Fabæk, Kunsten Museum of Modern Art Aalborg.
Jens Haaning, Take the Money and Run, 2021. Image courtesy of Niels Fabæk, Kunsten Museum of Modern Art Aalborg.

A Danish museum loaned artist Jens Haaning USD 84,000 to create two works of art using the banknotes. The museum received Haaning’s work a few days before the planned exhibition. However, what the museum received in the name of art were two blank canvases titled Take the Money and Run. Haaning pocketed the amount loaned to him instead of creating the requested works of art. He defended his actions by claiming the artwork concerned the working conditions of artists.

The museum acknowledged Jens Haaning’s humorous approach and displayed the artworks at the exhibition as promised. However, museum officials stated that they will take necessary actions to ensure the artist returns the money and complies with his part of the contract in due time.

While Haaning’s statement is gathering headlines, he is not the first to create art out of nothingness. He instead builds on a long history of invisible art.

The white square that boxes Salvatore Garau’s invisible sculpture, Lo Sono, 2021. Image courtesy of Salvatore Garau.
The white square that boxes Salvatore Garau’s invisible sculpture, Lo Sono, 2021. Image courtesy of Salvatore Garau.

An Italian artist known for his invisible sculptures is Salvatore Garau. Earlier this year, he sold an invisible art piece for $18,000. Titled Lo Sono, meaning “I am,” Garau surrounded his imaginary sculpture with a square border. An unidentified buyer purchased the piece at an event organized by Italian auction house Art-Rite. Describing the sculpture, Garau said: “It is a work that asks you to activate the power of the imagination, a power that anyone has, even those who don’t believe they have it.” He explained that even if the sculpture is invisible to the eye, it still exists. Instead of bronze or wood, air and spirit compose the piece.

Tom Miller, Nothing, 2016. Image courtesy of Getty Images / Sfio Cracho.
Tom Miller, Nothing, 2016. Image courtesy of Getty Images / Sfio Cracho.

Astonishingly, another artist from Florida sued Garau after his notable sale. Tom Miller stated that the idea was similar to his own invisible art piece, titled Nothing. Similar works created by Salvatore Garau include Buddha in Contemplation at the Piazza della Scala in Milan and the latest being Afrodite Piange at the New York Stock Exchange. Both works are only visible through one’s imagination.

Yves Klein, Le Vide (The Void), 1958. Image © The Estate of Yves Klein c/o ADAGP, Paris.
Yves Klein, Le Vide (The Void), 1958. Image © The Estate of Yves Klein c/o ADAGP, Paris.

In April of 1958, over 3,000 people showed up to witness Le Vide (The Void), an exhibition by French artist Yves Klein. The event, which was originally titled “The Specialization of Sensibility in the Raw Material State of Stabilized Sensibility,” appeared at the Iris Clert Gallery in Paris. It exhibited nothing at all. The artist emptied the gallery, painted it all white, and presented the vacant space as a work of art. The only other color witnessed was blue, visible in the form of a window and blue cocktails served at the event.

Klein believed that “if the creative process is successful, this invisible and intangible immaterialization of painting should act upon the sensible vehicles or bodies of the visitors to the exhibition much more effectively than ordinary, visible paintings, whether they are figurative, non-figurative, or even monochrome.”

Marcel Duchamp in 1942, photographed by Arnold Newman. Image courtesy by dadart.com
Marcel Duchamp in 1942, photographed by Arnold Newman. Image courtesy by dadart.com

The history of invisible art and nothingness is rooted in anti-art forms like Dadaism, a movement promoted by Marcel Duchamp that dates back to 1913. Artists who resort to this art form often encourage viewers to unlock their imagination and connect with a piece on a raw and extremely personal level. Even if an artist creates nothing, it is probably something. 

Interested in other forms of non-physical art? Auction Daily regularly covers the rising NFT sector of the art industry. Check out our recent coverage of Dread Scott’s debut NFT. 

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James Ardis
James Ardis
Senior Writer and Editor

James Ardis is a writer, editor, and content strategist focused on the auction industry. His company, James Ardis Writing, has partnered with auction houses, galleries, and many clients outside the art world.

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