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Empty Space as a Recurrent Artistic Theme Explored at Centre Pompidou
Bethan Huws, Haus Esters Piece, 1993, Krefeld – Germany. View Exhibition. Museum Haus Esters Krefeld, 1993 © photo: Volker Döhne, Krefeld ADAGP, Paris

PARIS.- With VOIDS, A RETROSPECTIVE, the first exhibition of its kind at an art museum, the Centre Pompidou offers an opportunity to explore a crucial chapter in the history of art. After Yves Klein’s exhibition at the Iris Clert gallery in 1958, the empty space became a recurrent artistic theme. This chronological exhibition brings together reconstructions of nine empty exhibitions, from Art & Language in 1966 to Roman Ondák en 2006.

Yves Klein’s emblematic exhibition, an empty space presented as such to the viewer, is considered to mark a crucial stage in the history of modern art, like the Armory Show of 1913 in New York, or 0,10 in St Petersburg in 1915. The empty space as exhibited object thus became, in a way, a classic of radicalism, and would be repeated and remade in other contexts, other places and other times by other artists whose intentions might be similar, different or even opposed to Klein’s. The principle of the exhibition at the Centre Pompidou is to present only exhibitions where the space is left rigorously empty, without the addition or subtraction of anything. This excludes, for example, shows or works involving the modification of lighting, the installation of sound, the construction of partitions or the exclusion of the public. And it is no part of its goal to reconstruct the original physical space.

Each project offers a different reading of the empty space, representing, perhaps, a claim, a renunciation, or, indeed, a celebration of the architecture of the Centre Pompidou. Contemplating emptiness, one confronts nothingness and absence, the invisible and the ineffable, destruction and negation. VOIDS is offered for what it is, and for what it allows. The visitor encounters the empty exhibitions now in 2009, here at the Musée National d’Art Moderne. This accumulation of empty spaces, similar in appearance but radically different in reality, has echoes and implications beyond its walls.

This exhibition brings together the work of artists who have attempted this extreme gesture, to show without showing an object, without making any intervention but a single announcement. In this respect, Laurie Parsons’ exhibition at the Lorence-Monk Gallery of New York in 1990, announced by a card bearing only an address, with neither dates nor the name of the artist, is perhaps the most radically minimal formulation. From the search for a renewal of perception, through political or ideological statement, to the deconstruction of the very principle of exhibition, these projects pose a range of crucial questions about the role of the museum, and this unprecedented marshalling of eloquent emptiness within the Centre Pompidou represents a true challenge to the institution.

For an unprecedented exhibition, an unusual curatorial team. VOIDS, A RETROSPECTIVE, which is both an exhibition in the most traditional sense and an art event in its own right, has been put together by John Armleder, who has always been interested in nothing; Gustav Metzger, a key figure in auto-destructive art; Mai-Thu Perret, a young conceptual artist; Mathieu Copeland, a curator who explores the limits of the exhibition; Clive Phillpot, a writer; Laurent Le Bon, curator at the Centre Pompidou; and Philippe Pirotte, director of the Kunsthalle Bern.

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