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The Art of Nothing

By | July 2012
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Art exhibitions without exhibits are nothing new. Nothing has been a recognised art form for half a century. But the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris can claim a cultural first this week: a retrospective exhibition of 51 years of exhibitions without exhibits by nine different artists. How can a museum retrospectively exhibit nothing? With great care. The 500-page catalogue costs €39 (£34).

The exhibition, Voids, a Retrospective, fills, or fails to fill, five rooms in the French national museum of modern art on the fourth floor of the Pompidou building. All the rooms are entirely empty. The walls are white. The floors are bare. The lighting has been arranged just as carefully as for any other temporary exhibition. The gardiens (guards) watch suspiciously to make sure that the visitors do not touch anything, or in this case that they do not touch nothing.

The aim of the retrospective exhibition – refused by several other leading museums in other countries – is to celebrate and explore a movement begun in Paris by the minimalist artist, Yves Klein. Klein, influenced by Zen Buddhism, was the first artist to present an exhibition of blank walls at the Galerie Iris Clert in Paris in 1958.

Klein's exhibition of nothing has been revived for the Pompidou show (which can be seen, or rather not seen, until 23 March). In theory, the Pompidou is not presenting the same nothing because these are not actually the same blank walls. There are, explanatory panels with the same explanations.

Klein's blank walls are a "specialisation of sensibility to raw materials through stabilised pictorial sensibility". In other words, by seeing nothing, you are encouraged to see everything more clearly.

The Pompidou retrospective also revives the celebrated (briefly) Air Conditioning Show assembled (or rather not assembled) in 1967 by Art and Language, a British artists' collective. The show exhibits air-conditioned air in an empty gallery with white walls. Five curators have...
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