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The art of doing something with nothing

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AT THE Venice Architecture Biennale, which begins on May 26th, the British pavilion will be an empty shell. The odd wall bracket or plastered wall will hint at previous exhibitions, but there will be far less to please the eye than the display of Phyllida Barlow’s bulbous rock and metal sculptures at last year’s Art Biennale. This is not the first time that a space has been left empty to make a calculated point—it is not even the first time in Venice. Yet far from offering the visitor total interpretative autonomy, artists and curators tend to have fixed ideas about what their emptiness means.

The device of abandoning the exhibition space was first deployed by Yves Klein, one of the fathers of conceptual art. An exhibition in Paris in 1958—pithily titled “The Specialisation of Sensibility in the Raw Material State into Stabilised Pictorial Sensibility”—left the gallery bare except for some fancy drapes, which created a dramatic entrance, and a single cabinet. Every surface in the otherwise vacant interior was painted white. Klein…Continue reading

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