A silent introduction to an exhibition dedicated to stripping away, rejecting, freeing artworks from their previously mandatory attributes.
The group exhibition A Brief History of Absence showcases works of art that lack the very thing which, conventionally, ought to allow people to consider them works of art. It could be said that it was in such a gesture of excision that what we now term modern art had its beginnings. The project focuses on various examples of productive absence and elimination. How does a work of art work when it loses its title? What happens to art when it leaves the confines of the exhibition halls? How does the abandonment of the traditional separation between a work of art and its contemplative public open up new horizons of aesthetic experience? Is it possible to add by removing?
John Cage’s work 4’33”, written in 1952, is one of the most radical gestures in the history of modern academic music. This “silent piece” consists of silence—or, rather, of surrounding sounds caught by chance: the creak of a grand piano lid opening, the wind outside, a cough in the concert hall, people talking. 4’33” consists of three parts that last 33 seconds, 2 minutes 23 seconds, and 1 minute 40 seconds respectively. The piece can be performed by one or several musicians who do not touch their instruments. The work was intended to reveal the substance of time, pure duration, the noises that inhabit it. “I wanted this work to be free of my sympathies and antipathies, because I believe that music should be free of the composer’s feelings and thoughts… There’s no such thing as silence. What they thought was silence, because they didn’t know how to listen, was full of accidental sounds, ” the composer later stated.
Cage’s interest in pauses, gaps, emptiness, uncertainty, and the flow of time was closely linked to his interest in Zen Buddhism and other schools of oriental philosophy, which lend great importance to an awareness of living in the moment. The artistic investigations of the Moscow Conceptualists, for whom Cage was an important figure, also developed in this direction. 4’33” will be performed by various groups of musicians throughout A Brief History of Absence.