The Guardian ran a piece about an art show at the Hayward Gallery.
It was an exhibition of nothing.
50 artists would show works that “explored invisibility and emptiness”.
One was a blank sheet of paper the artist had stared at for 1,000 hours, over 5 years.
Another was a 90-minute movie that the artist had shot with no film in the camera.
There were complete galleries with bare walls.
As the curator said: “It is the finest art exhibition you’ll never see.”
The Guardian didn’t know whether to mock it or show reverence.
That’s the problem with a lot of modern art, the only safe criticism is: ‘meta’.
In this case it was a prank by two Canadian radio satirists, Pat Kelly and Peter Oldring.
They intended to poke fun at a ludicrous state of modern art.
But actually they were too late, modern art had already gone far beyond parody.
In 1952, John Cage released his composition: 4’ 33” – four and a half minutes of silence.
In 1953, Robert Rauschenberg exhibited his completely blank: ‘Erased de Kooning Drawing’.
In the late 1950s, artist Yves Klein unveiled galleries of nothing.
Gustav Metzger showed ‘5 Decades of Nothing’ in Paris, and in London he followed it with ‘Gustave Metzger Thinks About Nothing”.
But certainly the recent controversy between Serbian artist Marina Abramovich and New York artist Mary Ellen Carroll defied satire.
After her show at MOMA, Abramovich exhibited ‘512 Hours’ at the Serpentine Gallery.
From 10am to 6pm, 5 days a week, for 12 weeks, she did nothing.
She said: “It’s the public and me and nothing else. I’ve never done anything as radical as this. It’s as immaterial as you can get.”
She added: “This is what I want: nothing. There is no work, it’s the purest art I can do.”
But immediately she was accused of taking nothing from somewhere else.
Critics David Joselit and Frazer Ward accused her of not crediting the person who did nothing originally.
Mary Ellen Carroll left her New York apartment and, with nothing except the clothes she was wearing, lived in Argentina for 6 weeks.
Carroll said: “I want to make works where nothing happens. Images of nothing, nothingness, doing nothing.”
Joselit said he: “Wasn’t prepared to accuse the Serpentine gallery of plagiarism, as such.”
Ward said he: “Wouldn’t expect the Serpentine gallery to reel off a history of nothing.”
But both felt Abramovich “didn’t acknowledge the genealogy”, her nothing didn’t do enough to credit previous nothings.
There was a definite feeling that she was taking credit for nothing just by not mentioning nothing that anybody else had ever done (or not done) before.
So the question is, if it doesn’t exist how can it be art?
But similarly, how can ads that never ran be advertising?
And yet we have an award scheme for just that.
Talking of award schemes, how about ads that were done solely to win awards, advertising whose only function is to sell itself?
And as for the ludicrous justifications critics make for modern art, how about the videos we make for the jury to watch BEFORE they even see the advertising?
The advertising that is supposed to run WITHOUT needing any video explanations.
We can laugh at how pretentious and ridiculous people are in other fields.
What mugs people are to buy that stuff.
But somehow we just can’t see it in ourselves.