The Presence of Absence

  • Lawrence Weiner, A 36 x 36" removal to the lathing or support wall of plaster or wallboard from a wall, 1968. Collection of Seth Siegelaub, New York, New York, and Bagnolet, France.

  • Buky Schwartz, Three Angles of Observation, 1987. Courtesy of he artist.

  • Jenny Holzer, Selections from Truisims, 1977-79; The Living Series, 1980-82; The Survival Series, 1983-85. Courtesy of the artist and Barbara Gladstone Gallery, New York.

  • Leni Schwendinger, Concurrent Skiagrams, 1987. Courtesy of the artist.

  • Daniel L. Collins, Virtual America IV, 1987. Courtesy of the artist.

  • Judith Barry, The Absent Presence, 1987. Courtesy of the artist.

Curated by Nina Felshin

“When an artist uses a conceptual form of art,” wrote Sol LeWitt in a 1967 statement on conceptual art, “it means that all the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair.” Lewitt and other conceptual artists often regard the execution of a work of art as subordinate to its conceptualization. Execution became an activity that followed the creative process, one which sometimes could be accomplished by someone other than the artist. Execution could mean simply implementing the concept or, in case of LeWitt and many of the Fluxus artists, interpreting it. In either case, the process of execution was regarded as an activity separate from that creation.


The Presence of Absence does not intend to resurrect the 1960s viewpoint that execution is less important than conception; it does, however, provoke questions about conceptual art’s relevance – both by implicit comparison to the so-called neo-conceptual school, and by serving as a catalyst for new works that adapt and revise many of conceptual art’s strategies. Execution is neither perfunctory nor unnecessary here, even though the exhibition excludes both artists and objects. Participating museums receive the artists’ written instructions, diagrams, slides, and transparencies – but never the works of art themselves. These are created anew at each site by local artists, art students, or museum staff and cease to exist at the end of the presentation. None of the works requires the presence of the artist to be executed. None involves tangible, unique, objects. Virtually all utilize the existing architecture of the exhibition space as their support.


All the works in this exhibition require the participation of others to be executed. Several go one step further, obliging the spectator to participate, perceptually and physically, in the creation of the work – in effect, to produce its meaning. These works do not function well as ideas in the way that many examples of conceptual art could; clearly, these works are meant to be executed. But even works in the exhibition that do not engage the viewer in this manner were conceived to be executed and, despite the absence of a material object, have a definite visual component.


—Excerpt from catalogue essay by Nina Felshin, 1988



Nina Felshin

Nina Felshin, formerly a curator at Wesleyan University’s Zilkha Gallery, The Contemporary Art Center in Cincinnnati and the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC,  is an independent curator, writer, and activist.  She is the editor of But Is It Art?: The Spirit of Art as Activism and the author of numerous articles and catalog essays. Felshin’s past exhibitions include, in addition to the five she curated for ICI,  Black and Blue: Examining Police Violence; Disasters of War: From Goya to Golub; Global Warning: Artists and Climate Change; and Framing and Being Framed: The Uses of Documentary Photography.



touring schedule

Laumeier Sculpture Park and Garden
St. Louis, MO, United States
August 29, 1992 - October 24, 1992

University Art Museum, University of New Mexico
Alberquerque, NM, United States
October 28, 1990 - December 21, 1990

The University of Iowa Museum of Art
Iowa City, IA, United States
October 6, 1990 - November 30, 1990

Museum of Art, Pennsylvania State University
University Park, PA, United States
August 26, 1990 - October 14, 1990

Longview Museum and Arts Center
Longview, TX, United States
March 10, 1990 - April 21, 1990

Prichard Art Gallery, University of Idaho
Moscow, ID, United States
March 10, 1990 - April 21, 1990

University of Kentucky Art Museum
Lexington, KY, United States
January 14, 1990 - March 4, 1990

Oakville Galleries
Oakville, Ontario, Canada
November 4, 1989 - December 31, 1989

Albany Institute of History and Art
Albany, NY, United States
September 23, 1989 - November 5, 1989

University of Arizona Museum of Art
Tucson, Arizona, United States
February 22, 1989 - March 29, 1989

Gallery 400, University of Illinois at Chicago
Chicago, IL, United States
January 11, 1989 - December 21, 1990

NEW YORK, NY 10013
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