Invisible Art at Hayward Gallery: Worth ‘Seeing’?

Yves Klein in the Void Room, 1961

Written by Lorna Barnshaw

Hayward Gallery’s cur­rent exhib­i­tion Invisible: Art about the Unseen, 1957–2012 on show until 5th August 2012, is full of the bizarre, the won­der­ful and the ques­tion­able. If you are curi­ous enough to pay the £8 entry fee you will dis­cover an exhib­i­tion which will no doubt cause you to ques­tion the mean­ing of art. Although the exhib­i­tion will not uni­ver­sally impress it is worth a visit, but be warned: leave your cyn­icism at the door and enter with an open mind.

Consisting of four rooms there is sur­pris­ingly more to look at than the title sug­gests, the art may be invis­ible but there is alway accom­pa­ny­ing text, sketches or film. Curator Ralph Rugoff explains in an inter­view with the BBC’S Will Gompertz that it is the inform­a­tion behind the work that defines these invis­ible pieces as Art. It appears then that it is not a case of aes­thet­ics but a case of thought, inform­a­tion and meaning.

Artists such as Andy Warhol, Jeppe Hein, Tom Freidman and Yves Klein are some of the many exhib­it­ors. Features include a ped­es­tal con­tain­ing Andy Warhols’ aura, a plinth with a witches curse and the largest draw­ing in the world cre­ated by Lai Chih-​Sheng in chalk. The exhib­i­tion has it all from the dis­gust­ing, the unusual, the mundane, the fas­cin­at­ing, the fun and most import­antly the invisible.

Bethan Huws leaves you para­noid and sus­pi­cious of every­one, inform­ing you of hired act­ors blend­ing in as vis­it­ors … already para­noid you are left to enter a room heav­ily cur­tained with black vel­vet accom­pan­ied by the simple title “The Ghost of James Lee Byars”. Inside you are engulfed by com­plete and utter dark­ness mak­ing the vis­ible invis­ible, fear­ful to step fur­ther into the unknown.

A par­tic­u­lar favour­ite is Jeppe Heins’ Invisible Labyrinth. A head­set and infrared sensors send a vibra­tion to your head to sig­nify a wall. It is fas­cin­at­ing watch­ing vis­it­ors wander an empty space in zig­zag pat­terns try­ing to find a way through but it is even more inter­est­ing hav­ing a go your­self. Despite not see­ing a maze you are left both con­fused and embar­rassed in an attempt to find your way out, the vibra­tions almost phys­ic­ally stop you as though there is real wall. It is simply excel­lent art and well worth the exhib­i­tion entry fee alone.

Jeppe Hein’s’ Invisible Labyrinth, Hayward Gallery, June 2012

One of the most con­tro­ver­sial was Terressa Marolles’ piece, a room with two huge air con­di­tion­ing units. Once inside you read the usual accom­pa­ny­ing text, about halfway through you com­pre­hend that you are stand­ing in a room that is air con­di­tioned with water used to wash dead bod­ies before autopsy in Mexico. You will no doubt leave slightly sickened by this thought and quite frankly unsure how to react.

Bill Stott: Invisible Art Gag of the Month. July 2012

Overall the exhib­i­tion does what it intends. Curator Ralph Rugoff said in a recent inter­view with the BBC’s Will Gompertz*:

At a time when con­tem­por­ary art is as much about what you can see as how it makes you ques­tion and recon­sider, per­haps invis­ible art is just art without the visual, but art all the same?”

Curator Ralph Rugoff has been known for his uncon­ven­tional ima­gin­at­ive exhib­i­tions includ­ing Just Pathetic and Psycho Buildings: Artists Take On Architecture. People have always had a love-​hate rela­tion­ship with the Hayward Gallery espe­cially regard­ing its cold stark design. This theme con­tin­ues under the dir­ect­or­ship of Rugoff with his unortho­dox and vis­ion­ary ideas. He doesn’t spoon feed the vis­it­ors, instead he puts faith in them to be unpre­ju­diced with a will­ing­ness to think and ima­gine, to play along if you will. This how­ever isn’t suited for all; for some art is about beauty and skill and this exhib­i­tion will cer­tainly cause sparks to fly. That is the won­der of con­tem­por­ary art.

It is worth see­ing (or not as the case maybe), this unique and pecu­liar mix­ture of art. It might be worth men­tion­ing that Usher him­self stated that the exhib­i­tion is ‘totally dope’.

Lorna Barnshaw
About author:
Lorna Barnshaw
Lorna Barnshaw is an art enthusiast. Her passions include new media and photography, with a love for the innovative and the ‘outmoded’. Through attending art events and exhibitions in and around London, Lorna uncovers new artists, new processes and new channels of communication. She utilizes the powers of writing and photography as a means of r... Read further >
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