My pewter eggbox is a piece of art that has work to do. The purpose from the outset has been that I would give it to my sister as a gift in which to keep the eggs of her flock.
However, this presents a problem for me as the aspiring art student: the art is missing from the studio or exhibition place. How is the essence and reality of the work captured for an audience that cannot see it? It was put to me that what was shown to the audience became the artwork..ie, the emptymoulds where the eggbox had once been. I disagree, just because the eggbox is not present does not mean it does not exist.
This issue is nothing new and in fact ‘invisible art’ has been described as the Ground Zero of Conceptual Art.
Curated by Ralph Rugoff, ‘A Brief History of Invisible Art’ surveyed a range of practices that use the rhetorical figure of invisibility to question the way we look at art. It collected together architectures of air (Yves Klein, Project for a Sheltered City 1959), paintings made with invisible ink, water and thought (Bruno Jakob’s Happy Nothing/Still Collecting, 1990–98), a cursed area (Tom Friedman’s Untitled (A Curse), 1992), a draft of pressurized air (Michael Asher’s Vertical Column of Accelerated Air, 1966–7), an air-conditioned room (Art & Language’s Frameworks: Air-Conditioning, 1966–7), legal documentation for a ‘stolen’ art work (Maurizio Cattelan’s Denuncia, 1991) and waves of energy (Robert Barry’s Electromagnetic Energy Field, 1968), with works by Trisha Donnelly, Jay Chung, Glenn Ligon, Gianni Motti and Carsten Höller……
Insofar as every sound requires a space and a receiver, this invisible work, then, produces subtle changes in the visible world: a hand reaching for the telephone, a shift in posture, a passing expression of joy, confusion or conspiratorial laughter. Julian Myers, Frieze Magazine Issue 97, March 2006
Conceptual art can seem just like a piece of cheap trickery, the artist just does a quick note to describe the work and sticks it on a wall and goes to the pub, instead of labouring meticulously for weeks to produce something of substance. Did Maurizio Cattelan really make an art work that was stolen, or did he arrange for the production of a legal note referring to a fictitious theft of a fictitious art work instead. I don’t know and my on-line search has not made me any wiser.
If I forge a thank you letter from my sister, and stick that on the wall next to the empty moulds, in my book that is a deception.