The (in)visibly brilliant Invisible: Art About the Unseen 1957-2012 at the Hayward Gallery
After a quick walk around the Hayward Gallery you may have the impression that the exhibition is not fully set up. There are just half-empty rooms and deserted plinths waiting to be occupied by works of art. But the artworks are there. They are simply invisible, as the Hayward Gallery is presenting – or rather non-presenting – Invisible: Art About the Unseen 1957-2012. Visual art apparently doesn’t have to be visible to be virtuous.
Although it may seem to be a mischievous hoax, the exhibition, curated by Ralph Rugoff, Director of the Hayward Gallery, profoundly questions our assumptions and perceptions of art by employing manifold games of hidden and revealed. Basically, art is – as Danto’s and Dickie’s institutional theory of art states – what is recognized as art by the art-world and its ideas, institutions and individuals. Even if it’s invisible.
Since 1957 the unique space of an art gallery allows artists to stretch the ontological rules and create art that is not only invisible, but also imperceptible and outside the given framework of reference. It was Yves Klein who first opened The Specialization of Sensibility in the Raw Material State of Stabilized Pictorial Sensibility – a room filled with artists’ sensibility and nothing else. Needless to say, many of visitors didn’t see it. To be is to be perceived.
The fact that the whole exhibition is centred around the idea of invisibility doesn’t mean that it is repetitious. The invisible is not simply unseen – it may absorb all the colours and hues.
The invisible is truly amusing, as is Maurizio Cattelan’s Untitled (Denunzia) (1991): a standard police form that officially documents the artist’s claim that an invisible sculpture had been stolen from his car, in a hilarious instance of bureaucratic absurdity. Tom Friedman hired a practising witch to curse the space above the plinth and create Untitled (A Curse).
The invisible can be engaging. Visitor participation peaks with Jeppe Heine’s Invisible Labyrinth (2005), which you navigate equipped with digital headphones which vibrate (activated by infrared rays) every time you bump into one of the maze’s virtual walls.
The invisible may be spiritual. The Ghost of James Lee Byars (1969/1986) presumably occupies an eerie black tunnel which visitors can walk through.
The invisible may also be disturbing. The perception of Teresa Margolles’ Aire / Air, Zurich (2003), changes dramatically when you realise that the two cooling systems constituting the installation are filled with water that was previously used to wash the bodies of murder victims in Mexico City prior to autopsy. Along with other works, such as the Invisible Monuments, Air employs invisibility as a metaphor of the suppression of information or the socio-political marginalization of social groups.
Information is the key to perceiving and understanding all of the works that are non-presented at the display. In fact, the whole weight of the artwork is not carried by its (non)martial form but by the concepts, revealed to us by the curator on subtle, almost invisible labels – brilliantly miming the intangibility of the exhibits.
The invisible may be a bit unexciting – although every invisible piece has its own, unique background and supporting idea, Bruno Jakob’s invisible drawings look (sic!) the same as Gianni Motti’s series painted with magic ink. But it is not the retinal, visible or tangible form, but the ideas that constitute the body of the invisible, intellectually stimulating art.
These are only some of the topics covered by the display and there a lot more to look for in the unseen art. Amusing as it can be, the invisible art is also sophisticated and demanding. Although there is not much to look at, there is a whole lot to appreciate at the Invisible: Art About the Unseen 1957-2012 exhibition.
Invisible: Art About the Unseen, 1957-2012 runs from 12th June until 5th August 2012 at the Hayward Gallery, Southbank Centre. For further information and ticket booking click here.