Currently showing at the Southbank’s Hayward Gallery is an extraordinary group show of works of art that are, for all intents and purposes, invisible. Such art has raised the collective hackles of red-top papers with contentious cries of “can’t see what all the fuss is about modern art?” A sentiment echoed in some of the best comments I have ever had the pleasure of reading, i.e., direct quote: “Art it isn’t i hate that if a normal people does it its nothing but if an art critic says its art its art i say these art critics know nothing.”
Invisible: Art of the Unseen 1957 – 2012 includes works such as Yves Klein’s “architecture of air” and Tom Friedman’s plinth on which a professional witch has cast a curse directly above. Each piece evoking a spatial awareness and our understanding of that beyond the literal, new conventions and “limits of our perceptual capacities.”
A regular exhibition might have just the title of the work, the date it was made, perhaps an anecdote as to its creation or small slice of context; all of this fitted neatly to the bottom right corner of the wall below the work. But Invisible needs explanation before you can even begin to experience the artwork. For example with Friedman’s work, before you read the blurb, the lack of anything on a white cuboid is inexplicably boring as opposed to inexplicably sinister.
So these pieces of text and adjoining catalogue are suddenly elevated beyond their normal captioning status, in some cases being the only thing to focus on affords them an interesting position that they suddenly become part of the artwork itself. We spoke to Inventory, the studio responsible, to hear a little more about this unique design brief…
Hardly, if ever, is the text the focal point for an exhibition – what was your approach towards the graphic experience of the show as opposed to an exhibition with classic pictures on the wall or sculpture etc?
There are physical objects in the show — there are picture frames, sheets of paper, white canvases and plinths but more often than not the work itself is void of any visual focus other than its housing, the frames etc. As director and curator of the Hayward, Ralph Rugoff has said: “Art isn’t about images it’s about ideas.” This is what is so fantastic about the concept of the exhibition and what, we think, makes it so interesting for the viewer and for us to work on.
Because of this lack of visual focus we were confronted with a dilemma – how to create a clear and very necessary explanation of a work whilst not overpowering the very subtle, or absent, nature of the works.
We did lots and lots of tests to find the optimum contrast at which type is clear and readable at a reading distance but disappears and blends in to the background when viewed from a distance. This included looking at different fonts, typesetting, colours, finishes and sizes. In the end we found that using a single stroke monospace font at 13% black, set within a 3% black painted panel we could create the desired effect.
Although the results are very subtle it was an incredibly interesting and satisfying experiment, working with such traditional elements (paint, rubdowns and masking tape) to create something so precise. The whole effort was a real collaboration between ourselves, the curators, the printers and the installers and all credit to the curation team for pushing this radical idea to its limits. The director of the gallery Ralph actually mentioned that we has solved the problem that always faces curators with regards to labelling and that we should perhaps look in to patenting the process.
And you produced a takeaway that again, is text heavy, but also very cheap for a catalogue – what was the concept behind this?
The concept for the catalogue/guide was led by production limits at first: it had to be cheap enough that most people would buy it, that and Ralph and Nadine Monem from Hayward Publishing were both keen on the idea that it could be rolled up, put in your pocket and really used.
From there we looked at ideas like using super thin bible paper, which is actually very opaque, and eventually found a 80gsm stock that was both semi-transparent and affordable for a 96pp catalogue. The essays and artists texts we also set in the same single stroke monospace typeface used in the show graphics and printed in a grey PMS with four colour images.
We printed all the images on the verso side of the pages so they ghosted through to the recto side where the densely justified typesetting wrapped around empty spaces where the missing images should be found. The textured card cover features an image of Yves Klein in the Void Room, taken in 1961, as he is cited as a key figure in this minimalist movement.