What does absence look like? How can loss—of objects, of memory, of yourself—become a tool for artistic expression? In the face of today’s increasingly noisy consumer culture, What Absence Is Made Of answers these questions and more as it mines the Hirshhorn’s extensive collection in search of the mind-bending ways that artists surmount the limits of the material world.
Spanning more than seven decades and seventy works, the exhibition explores the many ways artists express absence. Some use frame of reference, or mirroring effects, that trigger the imagination of the viewer; others create work on a massive scale, yet with the barest materials. Despite their variance, all of the works reward viewers with unexpected and mind-bending glimpses into the spaces left behind when something disappears, or when something has even yet to be.
In the late 1960s, many artists started experimenting with a compelling new medium: ideas. One of these early conceptual artists was Joseph Kosuth, who in 1966 began presenting written definitions in the place of physical objects.