I am, therefore, I think
No less distorted than Descartes' famous phrase, the principle that the Italian artist Salvatore Garau embraces and throws on the table of the great artistic egos, explodes the public opinion which, critical and vigilant as it is, takes an ironic and offended attitude.
At the beginning of June, 2021, the whole media wrote about the unprecedented event in the art world, when an Italian artist actioned and sold an invisible sculpture for more than 18k$. More, he requested it to be displayed in an unobstructed area that is five feet by five feet. It should also be displayed in a private home. And it may be displayed in any light since it's not there. The invisible sculpture is named Io sono (I am) and carries along a certificate which proves it is invisible, but real.
With a very obvious philosophical approach, the event reopens a red subject, controversial and difficult to digest: conceptual art. The value of art makes uneatable the belief that art exists in an autonomous space or sphere. Consequently, to determine where the conceptual work of art ends and where the scam begins, it’s not an easy task.
The concept itself it’s not new. Yves Klein was the first who applied Duchamp’s dematerialization to art, when he exhibited the empty gallery of Iris Clert in 1958. This idea was appli
ed several times, calling the works invisible paintings and sculptures. In 1985 Andy Warhol created the Invisible Sculpture with the intention to show that the absence of something could also be art.
Models of exhibitions that do not exhibit anything have played a very specific role within conceptual art. As Poisset pointed out: „the end of painting and sculptures as exclusive materials in the devision of the visual within artistic representation“, that is dematerialization. The focus must be on the ideology or intentions behind conceptual art, distinguishing these rather as artistic strategies than historical categories.
When breaking with the traditions of modernist painting and sculpture, conceptual artists were producing statements that have become artworks.
SPACE INVOKES IMAGINATION
"The vacuum is nothing more than a space full of energy," Garau explained. "And even if we empty it and there is nothing left, according to the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, that 'nothing' has a weight. Therefore, it has energy that is condensed and transformed into particles, that is, into us."
Briefly, Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle claims that the less one knows about the position of one particle, the more can know about its momentum and vice-versa. In other words, the accuracy of knowledge is, anyhow, limited.
Another idea of emptiness is also a recurring theme within the work of Robert Barry: „There is something about the void and emptiness which I am personally very concerned with (…) Nothing seems to me the most potent thing in the world.“
One needs to dispel the myth that seeing is believing.
An interesting thing about invisibility is that the things we don't see, we don't understand.
If you want to take a closer look at something, you don't see anything. The closer we look at anything, the more it disappears.
Gravity is something we don't see or understand, but we feel it.
The stars cannot be seen during the day. The more light there is, the less visible they are. The light cannot be seen.
The less we know, the bigger the magic is.
“You don’t see it, but it exists”, says Garau referring to a previous works, namely Buddha in Contemplation, marked by a white square taped onto a cobbled walkway in Milan.“It is made of air and spirit. It is a work that asks you to activate the power of imagination, a power that anyone has, even those who don’t think they have it.”
In fact, the principle of any temple or place of worship. Which, in order to exist, needs only faith and an allocated space.
Exploring the vacuum anticipates the active role of the visitor inside (empty) exhibition space, using it as a pretext to meet the self and reflect.
This invisible sculpture is a work of art with more input and more imagination than a classic one. It serves as an invisible mirror of consciousness. It is much more difficult to meet your consciousness in an already formed figure, hitting the consciousness of another.
There are no prejudices. The viewer has freed himself from any social limitations, references or intellectual frenzy. Directly meet the artistic intention. Pure emotion. A deep, intrinsic reflection, a deep analysis of the inner self. I imagine that this is how the moment of glory of any spiritual guide should look like.
The temporal-geographical data are liquefied. The political, social, historical context to which the invisible sculpture belongs no longer matters. It is, from the beginning, universal. There is a latent energy in man that awaits its unfolding moment: the very energy of freedom and mental restraint.
Any attempt of picturing (visualizing) the art is merely an evidence that the art audience is stuck with its visual art object.
Would there be any difference between a non exhibition model and a model that exhibits nothing?
In this case, the dematerialization can be explained by the uniqueness of the artist’s intention. It addresses specific questions about what that space becomes particularly to its context. Therefore, the work cannot be re-exhibited. The survival of this invisible work is secured by its documentation (certificate), which is a sign captured in a constituent relation. It is not the work capturing the mind, but the mental space capturing the work.
The work is not visual in nature but required traditional means of exhibitions (but that means which will present the intrinsic ideas of art). While the conceptual artists provided their own theories, the writing of a “critical interpretation”, different from the artist’s intuition, is assumed to be unnecessary – essentially because it is prejudiced information.
The idea that the artist himself is the best choice to explain the work and therefore the position of the critics is based on the assumption that artists are rather thinkers than theoreticians. To explain an invisible but existing piece is challenging. Though: Invisible does not mean inexistent.
THE PRICE TO BE PAID
If the model of an empty exhibition space has been explored before, what is different and intriguing about Garau's invisible sculpture? - The price. The fact that someone has invested real money in an immaterial concept has brought with it many criticisms of snobbery and social inequality.
In the late 90s, Lippard stressed: „The artists who are trying to do non-object art are introducing a drastic solution to the problem of artists being bought and sold easily, along with their art. The people who buy a work of art that they cannot hang up or have in their garden are less interested in possessions. They are patrons, rather than collectors. That is why all this seems so inapplicable to museums, because museums are basically acquisitive.
Concept art has analyses the context in which the art object had once been obtained, focusing on a system of market that surrounded it like a net.
Duchamp said that it was the institutional context that defined the work of art.
Opposing Duchamp and his insight statement, the fact that Garau’s sculpture was auctioned and sold to a private for a consistent amount of money, provoked little earthquakes inside the art community.
Just two years ago, in November 2019, Maurizio Cattelan was going to sell at Art Basel in Miami Beach what he called “Comedian” – a banana stuck on a wall with a duct tape, for no less than 120k $. Also, the event has been widely mocked, but according tot he artist, he was making fun of the art market, naming the art installation „a joke“.
Unlike Cattelan, Garau’s intention was not a moment neither a joke nor a manifesto. He set up an intention and explained that exhibiting the sculpture in a space concentrates a “density of thoughts at a precise point”, therefore a certain amount of emotion.
He proposes a quintessence of minimalism. A philosophy of the essential, giving up the outer layers. Emotion, thought, intention is what matters. A principle no different from any material work of art. Is it immoral to financially honor such a proposal? In my opinion, this is the ultimate gesture of fairness and genuine living. One next level.
Conceptual art was born as a manifest, with some negative designations in the art institutions and more particularly in the focus of the exhibition space. Garau’s „Io sono“ is far from being perceived as a manifestation. There is nothing to be demonstrated or justified in his work. On the contrary, all is set and calm. So set and calm than the physical representation becomes unnecessary. A wonderful metaphor for the emptiness that fills and the excess that empties. The invisible is hard to tolerate. It makes the connection between worlds, puts harmony between opposites and leaves the imaginary pure, vital freedom. Looking from this perspective, I can say without hesitation: I exist, therefore, I think.