So I'll try and keep it brief. On my trips to art museums and galleries, I have often come across parts of the exhibition space where a work will have been taken down, replaced by a sign explaining the absence. It is usually that the work is on loan to another collection, or undergoing routine restoration. The absence creates a gap in the collection, white space that jars the narrative of the curator as the visitor moves through the exhibition.
At the other extreme, many of the larger museums have extensive collections that far outstrip the required space to exhibit them. Most of the works of a museum are actually locked away in warehouses, to be pulled out for loans, special exhibitions, or to be studied by academics. The general public rarely, if ever, gets the chance to see them. And these are not lesser or obscure works either, but can include famous artists such as Rembrandt and Turner.
It all leads me to the question: if an artwork is not on display, does it still exist as art? After all, isn't the purpose of creating a work for it to be exhibited?
Artists throughout the 20th century grappled with the idea, from works such as Man Ray's "The Enigma of Isidore Ducasse" and Christo's extensive series of wrapped objects, to more conceptual works where the rooms themselves provided the artistic experience, such as the experience of the Villa Panza in Varese with its skyspaces of Turrell, rooms by Irwin, and light installations of Flavin.
Thinking on it, these works range from the idea of the art being hidden, to the art being the space itself, but is it possible to have artwork not on display at all and still call it art?
I propose an idea for an exhibition. Let's call it "Removed" as a working title. Instead of a traditional exhibition, the space would only consist of carefully curated signs telling the viewer that the works in question have been removed from display.
If they're not there, do they still count as art? Do they still possess their inherent value?
It's a bit tongue in cheek; in fact, one could imagine not displaying famous art works such as the Mona Lisa or Water Lilies, and advertising as much. On the other hand, I could imagine it as a commentary on the practice of lending of works from other institutions, with an expert curator carefully selecting works that tell a coherent narrative, only to not have those works on display, leaving their work as a thought experiment, with the curator as the prominent actor in the piece.
There's a lot of directions it could take; in fact, it's probably been done before. But I'd like to do it. To create a body of work out of nothing, that is nothing in itself, and leaving everything up to the imagination of the viewer.
That would be fun.