Modern art always pushes boundaries – it challenges ideas of form, of taste and, in its most recent iteration, tangibility. The Italian artist Salvatore Garau recently sold an “intangible sculpture” for €15,000 – Io Sono (‘I am’) which has no weight, shape or form and, to the untrained eye, is simply nothing. It comes with a certificate of authenticity and instructions on how to display it, but the actual artwork itself doesn’t exist. There is a divided reaction to Io Sono – some admire his genius, while others think calling this art is an insult. Some find the work pointless, and others find it inspiring – so how should we approach it?
Speaking about Io Sono, Garau said: “The vacuum is nothing more than a space full of energy, 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. When I decide to ‘exhibit’ an immaterial sculpture in a given space, that space will concentrate a certain amount and density of thoughts at a precise point, creating a sculpture that, from my title, will only take the most varied forms. After all, don’t we shape a God we’ve never seen?”
There is a divided reaction to Io Sono – some admire his genius, while others think calling this art is an insult
This is not Garau’s first foray into invisible art. Last month, he displayed another immaterial sculpture, Buddha in Contemplation, in the Piazza della Scala in Milan, near the entrance of the Gallerie d’Italia. It is demarcated by a square of tape on a walkway, the only hint to its presence. He posted a video of the art on his Instagram page, writing: “Now it exists and will remain in this space forever. You do not see it but it exists. It is made of air and spirit. It is a work that asks you to activate the power of the imagination, a power that anyone has, even those who don’t believe they have it.” He installed a similar in front of the New York stock exchange, and the reaction was not positive: “So you really just taped a square and called that a sculpture?”
I’ll be frank, I read this story and my immediate thought was that Garau was a grifter, but I tried to understand the other side – how could nothing be understood as art? Apparently, within the contemporary art scene, the notion of air and its all-encompassing yet immaterial nature is inherently fascinating. Kinly Grey, an Australian light-and-air artist, says that it’s captivating because it is not “an empty space”: “It’s not just nothing. While in the day-to-day sense it’s easy to forget that air actually exists… it’s dangerous to think air is nothing, that it is both uniform and unlimited.”
‘You do not see it but it exists. It is made of air and spirit. It is a work that asks you to activate the power of the imagination, a power that anyone has, even those who don’t believe they have it
– Salvatore Garau
It’s not directly equivalent, but Rosslynd Piggott’s Collection of Air project highlights the attraction of air and seeming nothingness – she collected air from France, Italy and England in bottles, and found that people were fascinated with the concept: “They saw I was offering them a little key into this space on invisibility, and they realised they could project onto that space their own feelings, memories and senses; it was like taking them through a guided imaginative project.”
In 2014, a lot of people fell for a fake news report about invisible art. A fictious artist called Lana Newstrom supposedly said: “Art is about imagination and that is what my work demands of the people interacting with it. You have to imagine a painting or sculpture is in front of you.” At the time, art critics and rich snobs were mocked for falling for something so obviously absurd – not even a decade later, and invisible art has become a genuine reality. It was thought that something so bizarre was a stretch even for modern art, and yet the art world has evolved (or, if you will, devolved). That same year, the Serbian artist Marina Abramovic created an art show about nothing – it attracted controversy, but for plagiarism, and another artist claimed prior rights to the concept of ‘nothing’.
There’s space for the invisible in the art world – whether you think that space is pride of place in a gallery or in the garbage out back, I’ll let you decide
Frankly, I don’t think there’s much in invisible art myself, but there was enough interest in this work for bidders to push Io Sono way over its asking price – they say the point of art is about how it speaks to you, and clearly invisible art is engaging some people. There’s space for it in the art world – whether you think that space is pride of place in a gallery or in the garbage out back, I’ll let you decide.