In May, Italian artist Salvatore Garau sold his “intangible sculpture” I am during an auction. The invisible work of art literally consists of nothing. Even though the work has no material existence, the Art-Rite auction house has estimated its value between 6,000 and 9,000 € (or between 7,000 and 11,000 $ approximately). At the auction, the bidders raised the price and Garau walked away with € 15,000 ($ 18,300).
In exchange for this sum, the buyer, a private Milanese collector, of the alleged work, the latest version of the Emperor’s New Clothes, received a certificate of authenticity and the artist’s instructions for the exhibition. of sculpture. Garau stipulated that the work should be displayed in a private home in an area of approximately five square feet without obstruction. Special lighting and air conditioning are optional.
How to design an invisible sculpture? Garau had a pseudo-scientific explanation ready for the Spanish tabloid Diario AS. “The vacuum is nothing more than a space full of energy, and even if we empty it and there is nothing left, according to Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, nothing has any weight” , did he declare. “Therefore, it has energy which is condensed and turned into particles, which is in us.”
For those who are confused by this double talk, Garau appeals to mysticism. “When I decide to ‘exhibit’ an immaterial sculpture in a given space, that space will concentrate a certain quantity and density of thoughts at a specific point, creating a sculpture which, according to my title, will only take the shapes. more varied. After all, aren’t we a God we’ve never seen? “
I am is not Garau’s first invisible “sculpture”. In February, Garau exhibited Buddha in contemplation in Piazza della Scala in Milan. It would have been displayed inside a square taped to the pavement. “It’s a job that asks you to activate the power of the imagination,” Garau said.
As laughable as it is, this is the artist’s most relevant remark on his “work”. Taking this absurdity at face value, Garau has entirely abdicated the artist’s responsibility to communicate something important about the world through his art. With I am, Garau provided nothing of value, took the money, and forced others to create the conspicuous work themselves.
This aesthetic quackery belongs to the same historical plane as the rise of financial parasitism in general and more recently, since the start of the pandemic, the “vast escalation of speculation promoted by the Fed and other central banks”, in the words of ‘a recent WSWS. article. “Debt, corporate bonds and other financial assets are what Marx called fictitious capital. Reflecting these economic and social processes, we have now arrived at a highly speculated “fictional art”. As it may suggest, there is currently a huge, unstable asset bubble in art and collectibles.
Garau is thriving while artists in the United States alone have lost an estimated average of $ 34,000 each, and hundreds of millions collectively, in creativity-based income since the start of the pandemic.
The Italian artist (born in 1953) did not come out of nothing (although “nothing” seems to be his business). Her “work” has a link with the tradition of conceptual art, a trend that emerged in the mid-1960s. Concept art rejected the traditional art object, in the words of critic Roberta Smith, in favor of a “vast and undisciplined range of information, subjects and concerns hardly contained in a single object, but conveyed more appropriately by written proposals, photographs, documents. , graphics, maps, films and videos, by artists’ use of their own bodies and, above all, by language itself.
It was claimed that in conceptual art, the idea behind a work now took precedence over questions of material, technical competence and aesthetics. Idea is everything, and “execution is a superficial matter” in the words of Sol LeWitt, one of the early theorists and practitioners of conceptual art.
But art has always been based on ideas. What seemed to be new, or more pronounced here, as a result of the futile efforts of Andy Warhol and the pop artists, was a “total abandonment” [of] the expressive potentials of painting and sculpture ”, in the words of British critic Peter Fuller. Conceptual art has codified and legitimized the cult of artists for the accomplished social and aesthetic fact. Despite their radical pretensions, the Conceptual Artists have shown a formidable passivity in the face of existing realities, including advertising, the media and the official dissemination of information.
Roberta Smith quotes conceptual artist Lawrence Weiner’s remarks in the late 1960s. “Art that imposes conditions – human or otherwise – on the receiver for its appreciation in my eyes constitutes aesthetic fascism. She continued, “Weiner didn’t care whether his ‘Statements’, succinctly worded Process-type propositions, … were executed by himself, by someone else, or not at all; it was the decision of the “receiver” of the work. … And Douglas Huebler, who was one of the first artists specifically called Conceptual, along with Weiner, Joseph Kosuth and Robert Barry, wrote in 1968: “The world is full of objects, more or less interesting; I don’t want to add more. I prefer, simply, to state the existence of things in terms of time and space.
This kind of talk reflected the disorientation and degeneration of the artistic intelligentsia, overwhelmed by tumultuous events, cut off from true leftist thought, or consciously rejecting it, and deeply removed from broad sections of the population.
Instead of sculptures or paintings, conceptual artists produced documents and photographs that recorded their inquiries or symbolic interventions. They regarded these documents as mere evidence; the supposed idea was the work itself. Other artists, such as Barry and Yoko Ono, exhibited or published instructions for creating works.
Concept art claimed to be anti-establishment. And undoubtedly there was a certain sincerity in the refusal of the work as an exchangeable commodity on the market. Weiner, for example, explicitly sought to create a work that could not be sold, but that anyone could “own”. Many conceptual artists have also attempted to question the authority of the gallery or museum to give the work the status of art. However, this “democratic” stance was far less meaningful in the long run than the refusal – or inability – of artists to honestly confront and criticize in artistic terms, in concrete and compelling imagery, the world around them.
In this context, the refusal to create a work of art that could become a commodity was as much a gesture of despair as of rebellion, and, in too many cases, too easily “marketable despair”. Overall, concept art accelerated the decline in the artist’s critical presence and, despite its superficially rebellious aspects, represented a further withdrawal from the fray.
The emergence of postmodernism in the late 1970s and beyond only deepened the issues and made some artists more cynical or confused.
Garau claims to have started “a new, small and genuine revolution” with his invisible sculptures. Sales of I am seems to represent a new development in conceptual art. He embraced both the dematerialized art object and the commodification of art. Like a financial speculator, he made a profit without creating value. At a time when artistic institutions have lost billions of dollars and artists struggle to survive, Garau’s intellectual fraud, as well as the fraud of large swathes of the art world, is coming to the fore.