The Museum of Non-Visible Art, a conceptual art project conceived by New York-based free-spirits/thinkers Brainard and Delia Carey, is “an extravaganza of imagination.” For those of us that grew up adoring fantasy and science-fiction novels (cough), that just might mean it has the potential to be a total dream. As its name implies, The Museum for Non-Visible Art is not filled with things, but with ideas; concepts and descriptions of art projects rather than wholly tangible items. It’s a world that is not necessarily visible, but is nonetheless real, opening a conversation about what we make when we use words and images, and the ways in which those words and images can be the architecture of our own realities.
As you may imagine, I was curious to know more about why Brainard and Delia decided to create a museum full of “invisible things.” Thankfully, they were eager to discuss. Check out our conversation, below, and check out their project for more.
I’ll be honest! The nature of this project is a bit unusual for Kickstarter, where emphasis is so much on the tangible. How did you come to Kickstarter and what was the process of shaping your project to fit our platform?
We chose to use Kickstarter for several reasons. For one, we are New Yorkers, and Kickstarter feels to us like a New York art-savvy enterprise. Without being corny, it is a way we were seeing more and more artists explain what they were doing in a clear and compelling way.
We have known about Kickstarter for quite awhile. In fact, we have backed many projects ourselves over the past year and became very familiar with the platform. What struck us most about Kickstarter was the relationship between the proposal and rewards. It seemed clear that when the rewards were really interesting, the project was more successful. But the quirky nature of the rewards could also have problems. When we backed the Vivian Maier project on Kickstarter, the reward we chose was one of her empty film spools, which was an odd reward, but it also was like a relic of some kind, and we liked that. However we noticed that there was a problem with that reward that some of the updates mentioned, saying people thought they were getting a whole roll of unexposed film! As crazy as that sounds, we also realized there is this effect of reading things very fast on the web, even Kickstarter, and readers are scanning text, and often misunderstanding the intent of the artist or writer. We were mindful of that while putting together our presentation because we wanted to avoid any misunderstandings.
Our history as artists began when we were giving out free hugs from our East Village storefront in 2000, launching the free hugs movement and setting the stage for some major shows, like the Whitney Biennial in 2002, where the idea of what we were doing was both understandable and also confusing to people.
We felt that the community of Kickstarter would get this idea and enjoy it, because other projects, especially in the arts, contained concepts that were unusual. Also, there was an additional issue about the fact that we were selling ideas and not tangible objects. Kickstarter seemed like the ideal place, perhaps the only place, to handle such a high-concept project like this. When it was accepted we were thrilled. We talked a lot about how to present this project to potential backers and did many rewrites of the text so that it would be very clear what we were doing. The video was very important to us and we chose a collaborator that people would know, to make it more tangible and real to them. James Franco is also a conceptual thinker that understood the whole project right away and he crated a non-visible artwork that seemed to go perfectly with the concept.The rewards section could have been much longer, as we had many works of art for sale, but we limited it for the sake of ease in reading through the project. We felt that potential backers would want to be part of the whole process as they are with many other Kickstarter projects. So when a backer gets the reward of a non-visible work of art, and they put that card on their wall, they can then explain it to their friends, and that is another way of what we imagined the typical backer of Kickstarter projects could really become involved.
Who would you expect to come to the Museum of Non-Visible Art and what would you hope they would get out of the experience?
When we tour this project we will do several things. In fact, we are doing a workshop of this project in a European biennial this fall, but in general, a tour would work like this: We would create a performance in a gallery or a museum or another location at a certain time. When the audience is assembled, we begin to guide them, just as a tour guide of a museum would. “Please step into the lobby, and now into the elevator.” The difference with the tour, is that we are also imagining and recreating an entire architectural space of a museum. In some cases we are recreating a building that was designed but never built. In New York, we want to recreate the downtown Guggenheim by Gehry that was never built. To do that, we stand on or near that proposed site and begin to describe the museum as we were just saying. There are museums and spaces all over the world that were designed but not built and we would like to re-animate all these spaces. So, picture an audience going through the non-visible museum, only we are gesturing to the walls and ceiling describing architectural details as well as the non-visible artworks. Here is where kickstarter comes in. This tour of a non-visible museum is not simply a performance, it is a tour of a museum, and the only art works that we are describing are already SOLD. This makes a huge difference, because then we are not just imagining things, we are describing real visual works of art that were received as rewards on Kickstarter, and they are owned, and in this case “loaned” to the museum. The audience for these tours will be actively visualizing what we are discussing, but they are also understanding another concept which is that the works they are imagining are already owned, and the owners have a certificate of authenticity!
What the audience of these tours might feel or receive, is a new way of looking at the world. Seeing things that are real, but not there, can change your perspective, like seeing the matrix code or a world within a world. It is art, but it is also a parallel reality that we can all become involved in.
Why do you think something like MONA would be relevant to the contemporary art scene?
The art scene historically has a precedent for this that we fit in to. In the 1950s, Yves Klein sold “invisible pictoral sensibility,” and also exhibited an empty gallery saying his paintings were invisible. Sol LeWitt sold instructions to make his drawings, and Yoko Ono wrote about imaginary scenes, and most recently, Tino Sehgal who had a solo show at the Guggenheim last year, created situations, like a couple kissing, and sold the instructions to own that to MOMA, who lent it to the Guggenheim! Tino Sehgal is unusual in that he tried not to create any documentation at all, it is all verbal instruction on how to recreate one of his performances. MOMA bought The Kiss for $70,000 and the director Glen Lowry, said it was one of the most difficult acquisitions that they ever made. So, here we are building a non-visible museum and selling the descriptions of artworks inside, which is slightly different from artists that preceeded us, but not without context.
We feel that this is just the beginning, and we would like to invite artists, writers, and others to collaborate with us, by coming up with their own non-visible work which we would sell through the museum. By inviting all kinds of artists from different fields we like the idea of merging disciplines and providing an open space where the imagination is the limit.
Was there a particular place from which the idea sprang? What was your thought process in conceiving of it?
Yes, in a way, the bandages for non-visible wounds were the start of it, but the non-visible museum idea began taking shape two years ago, when we were thinking about collaborating with other artists and building an institution. Richard Foreman once told us that artists like Jonas Mekas who started the Anthology Film Archives, were institution builders and that the world needed more of that, which is to say, more artists creating institutions that support the arts. This museum is hopefully one of those institutions as it grows. Kickstarter is also a new version of an institution that supports the arts.
Our process for putting it all together shifted several times in exactly how it would be conceived and presented, but we feel it began with the gesture of the non-visible wound, and then moved into visual art. A big part of how we thought about this involves how we want to be perceived. In conceptualizing the MONA, we wanted to be clear that this was about visual art, not a performance. That is why it was also essential that the work be owned somehow. This was key to our thought process, and the idea of rewards, of tangible things, that were at the same time intangible was a perfect way to begin to develop the project. Also, if we get lots of backers and the project succeeds, it is because of those backers, of the faith in this project. If we just used our own money and said, “here is the museum” and did the performance of the tour, it would not mean the same thing at all. But with all the backers behind it, it becomes something that we could not achieve on our own. It becomes much larger than our vision and it is a viable and real institution because we already have members or at least people who believe in the idea enough to put money down. That is what we call The New Economy, a system that creates a new form of exchange that everyone could potentially collaborate on and profit from.
What have people’s responses been like?
As of this writing we have 26 backers and are a few dollars short of 1,000, and that is after a week, so we are very optimistic. We have also had some notable backers, like a former museum director in NYC, a major curator, and other artists and professionals. We are really thrilled with the response!