Борис Бурда
Author: Boris Burda
Journalist, writer, bard. Winner of the «Diamond Owl» intellectual game «What? Where? When?»
Liberal Arts
10 minutes for reading


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Источник фото: edition.cnn.com


You were probably convinced that such a thing could not be done. But in New York, in clear English, they answered in a way anyone could understand — MONA! This abbreviation is simply deciphered: The Museum Of Non-visible Art.

Spacious halls, polite servants, beautiful signs on the walls with the description of the exhibited masterpieces… And that’s it! The masterpieces themselves are not there and are not necessary — is the description not enough for you? Take a look at the website of this museum, here it is (museumofnonvisibleart.com) — they will explain everything to you in even more detail than I could.

They will tell you that not ordinary works of art are exhibited here, but things so conceptual and ingenious that they even have the right not to materialize in our banal physical world and can exist only in the artist’s imagination. In some simplistic way, if you are advanced enough — even in your imagination. Watch and enjoy, if you don’t, it’s your own fault.

Okay, you say, well, someone made a joke, so what? Did this museum last a whole day or even a week? Not so — the museum is more than eight years old! On the website, there is the address of the museum and phone number — if you want, call and order a tour; it should be done by reservation.

You can look at the photo — visitors carefully look at the whitewashed wall and see wonderful paintings, descriptions of which they have just read. You don’t see anything like that? Your problem!


Photo source: shoutoutla.com


I even wondered — what did the first visitors of this museum tell their friends and acquaintances? Did they convincingly praise what they saw and fervently recommend not to miss the chance to visit this miracle of nature?

I immediately remembered a similar story from Leonid Solovyov’s favorite childhood book, «The Enchanted Prince». In order to help a poor old woman who owned nothing but a frail cat, little Hodja Nasreddin put him in a garishly painted cage, decorated it with a sign with the words «The Beast called Cat», and began to attract people with absolutely truthful advertising texts: «The Beast called Cat! He sits in a strong and secure cage! He makes sounds — nasty when he is hungry and pleasant when he is full!».

And the people came, neatly paying the entrance fee, and when they looked at it, they realized, of course, that they had been tricked again, the damned swindlers, but they didn’t tell anyone — let others buy it, it would be less frustrating! Maybe that’s all it was?

It is very unlikely— it has existed for a very long time, and nothing, by the way, does not hide. And the invisible paintings exhibited in it are not only closely watched — they are even bought, and not for small money.

For example, Amy Davison, a media producer, recently bought a painting, «Fresh Air», for $10000, which is not such a small amount of money. Its author — James Franco, a well-known actor and director, the host of the ceremony «Oscar-2011», the owner of his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a man quite well established even without such a painting. She bought, of course, only a sign with a description of this beautiful painting and all its highly praiseworthy qualities — the painting is invisible!

Why did not this Amy Davison outraged, not grab the Hollywood star by the scruff of the neck and not drag to the sheriff — give, say, my money, swindler! When medieval kings caught alchemists who tried to trick them into believing that they had gotten pure gold from base metals, but in fact were just skillfully tossing pieces of gold into a flask with their philosopher’s stone, they were not ceremonious with these alchemists — some were even hanged on gilded gallows.

But the kings were right in their own way — because the alchemists deceived them. And nobody deceived our collector, what she was promised, that she got! And she, by the way, was delighted with it. The work of alchemists was a business: if you get caught, you pay. And the work of the creators of invisible paintings is art.

And what, exactly, is art? What can be called art, and what cannot? A certain fairy-tale king from a rather popular fantasy solved this problem simply: if an abstractionist can draw a dog, let him draw it. If he can’t, he’s a charlatan and should be banished!

But this can only be gotten away with in fantasy, because the Picasso had a painting technique, and an outstanding one at that, and he painted such things that the mentioned king would have immediately called for an executioner without any debate.

It is clear that the thinking of this king is at the same level as that of his author — like a Soviet official of the 50s, when abstract painting in the USSR was published only in the magazine «Krokodil» in the section «Their Manners», and was commented you know how. But what can be done with the fact that for such paintings, wealthy people now lay out five and six-figure sums in hard currency? And even post-Soviet oligarchs, who were brought up on this «Krokodil»?

Someone may say: «You can see at once whether it is art or not — just look at it, and you will understand everything». Not so! Sometimes, everyone shouted: «Shame!» and pointed their fingers, and as time went by, they hung it in a prominent place in the most respected museum.

The same «Breakfast on the Grass» by Edouard Manet, not to mention «Olympia», caused not just a scandal but classic public anger. When Manet did exhibit «Olympia», even relatively restrained critics called the heroine of the painting «slutty», «female gorilla», her hand resting on her hip, declared similar to a frog, the mass of indignant spectators simply spit on the picture or tried to pierce it with an umbrella.

They had to put two armed guards near it, but they could hardly cope, even from time to time exposing swords (they had to, or else they would have trampled!), and the painting was moved to the ceiling. And now it hangs in the prestigious Orsay Museum, and numerous viewers look at it with awe. Has something changed? In the painting — no, in the audience — very much.

The viewers, of course, have had a lot of work done on them. At about the same time, an artistic group called the «fumists» (from fumee — smoke) appeared in Paris. They proclaimed that the purpose of art — is to blow smoke into the eyes, to create an impression, no matter what it means. One of its leaders, Alphonse Allais, became famous for creating an exact copy of his famous «Black Square» many years before Malevich, called «Negroes Fighting in a Tunnel by Night».

The progress of perception is undoubted — the fumists were perceived not as charlatans, but as witty jokers, laughing at the slantedness, backwardness and old tracks.

The continuation of the fumists became the Dadaists, preachers of irrationality, cynicism and haphazardness, destroyers of recognized traditions and any kind of aesthetics, loudly proclaiming: «Dadaists are nothing, nothing, nothing, they will certainly not achieve nothing, nothing, nothing.


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They lied, by the way — they are remembered even now; such movements as surrealism and postmodernism are derived from them, and the names of Louis Aragon, Paul Eluard, Max Ernst, Otto Dix, Andre Breton, and other Dadaists are pretty noticeable in the history of world literature and painting. Look at the paintings of the Dadaists — are they clearer to you than the invisible paintings from MONA? Still, they are probably clearer now — we have been told about them for a long time…

Maybe that’s exactly the point, isn’t it? Art is always based on conventions, on the sum of particular social arrangements. But it also means something else — that society can be disinformed, that it can create a false opinion that this nothing in the middle of nowhere is art. And who would doubt it? This has been described in the literature for quite some time.

In André Maurois’s story «The Birth of a Celebrity», a friend advises a failed artist: «Declare that you have developed a new school of painting — «ideo-analytical». Not a portrait of a person you paint, but the images that the person awakens. Colonel — five gold galloons, horse, and crosses. An industrialist — a factory pipe and a fist on a table.

And if you are asked to explain something, ask the counter-question, «Have you ever seen a river flowing?» It doesn’t mean anything, but that’s why it will seem very meaningful». It helped that the artist became a celebrity, and when the friend who gave him the advice demanded that his merits be recognized as well, do you know what the artist answered him? That’s right — «Have you ever seen a river flow?».

A perfect rebuttal to any criticism of MONA’s invisible paintings! If you answer like that, the interlocutor will have nothing much to say. For a variety of reasons, you can use another phrase — not questioning, but affirmative, as proposed by the writer Yuri Polyakov. His character, the same pseudo-artist, saved himself in such cases with a phrase that was suggested to him: «Don’t boil a goat in its mother’s milk!»

The source is the most reliable — the Bible, Exodus 23:19. In some places, you can still be prosecuted for objecting to it, and in the past, they used to burn you for it. And even nowadays, if someone objected to your insufficiently respectful comment about invisible pictures, what would you say?

There is also a curious objection: «I can do it too! I will invent an abstruse description of a non-existent painting, nail it on the wall, and say that the invisible painting corresponding to the description is just in front of you, but since it is invisible, you cannot see it!». The answer to this is simple — you can’t, my dear! If you can, why don’t you? After all, those paintings are bought for five-figure sums — don’t you need the money?


«Negroes Fighting in a Tunnel by Night», 1882


It turns out that to be in charge of a parade, you have to organize the parade yourself! To find sponsors (164 sponsors invested in MONA at the initial stage of its creation — can you find at least half of them?), to ensure positive press coverage, to rent or build a building, to pay for advertising — that’s a lot of work! That’s how an idea that all these people worked hard on became a fact of art. Will you try?

By the way, theoretically, such frills are not only about painting. The same Maurois wrote: In English newspapers, it was reported about a concert of silence, which once given some unknown pianist. Noisy publicity did its job — on the day of the concert, the hall was full. The virtuoso of silence sits down at the piano and plays, but since all the strings are removed, not a single sound is heard. People in the audience are looking at each other. Everyone is waiting to see what their neighbor will do, and as a result, the entire audience sits holding its breath.

After two hours of sepulchral silence, the concert ends. The pianist stands up and bows. He is greeted by a storm of applause. The next day, the virtuoso of silence tells the story on television and concludes by confessing: «I wanted to see how far human stupidity extends; it is limitless».

This is probably fiction, after all — I have found no mention of such a concert anywhere. But American composer John Cage’s piece «4 Minutes 33 Seconds» has been performed long and often — the first performance dates back to August 29, 1952. The pianist sits down at the piano and does nothing for exactly 4 minutes and 33 seconds — the ambient sounds you hear while doing so are considered a piece of music.


John Cage, «4′33″»


Keep in mind, this piece has three parts — the first has exactly 30 seconds, the second 2 minutes 23 seconds, and the third 1 minute 40 seconds; you have to know this in advance because otherwise, there’s no way to guess. Cage has already been accused — «What kind of music is this, anyone could think of such a thing!», to which he quite rightly objected: «But they didn’t!».

By the way, this is a powerful objection — if they haven’t thought of it yet, then it’s not so easy. The Polish fiction writer Konrad Fialkowski describes a distant future in which the main difficulty for artists is that for thousands of years, everything has already been there, nothing new can be written, and you try your best to come up with something that no one has thought of yet — and a simple computer search shows that someone else has already published something similar before you.

The hero of the story, a loser writer, envies a successful colleague who has invented a basalt fish that comes up with a bowl of sour cream — no one has ever thought of such a thing before; computers have confirmed it, and the author of this incredible nonsense has become the most fashionable writer of the moment! You can’t take away this dignity from the museum of non-visible art — there were no such museums before, this is the first.

It is not the only one — in Switzerland in 2015, the No Show Museum was opened, dedicated to the embodiment of such a concept as Nothing in art. There are probably more, but by definition, there cannot be too many such museums. 

So what are these invisible paintings, after all — art or not? It’s up to you. Please consider it art — there seems to be no jail time or fine for it. But there’s another side to this stick. If you don’t want to consider it art, don’t! Don’t buy a ticket to this museum, don’t book a tour through it, don’t pay ten thousand for such paintings, don’t read articles about it, including this one — it’s like Honduras for Zhvanetsky, if you don’t scratch it, it goes away on its own. You consider it art — okay, I won’t argue. But this art was not created for me — and you don’t argue with me either!

The appearance of this in the US is logical and predictable. There they do not actively follow all sorts of creators of fake medicine, designers of miraculous devices that cure all diseases with radiation unknown to science, and leaders of sects that help even the incurable with collective prayers, plus seizure of property of sufferers in their favor. They refer, interestingly enough, to Charles Darwin.

The natural selection proclaimed by him has stopped working in the States, and with such an abundance of philanthropists, practically no one will die of hunger unless they try very hard — someone must take money from fools; they do not use it for anything sensible anyway. There is art that fits perfectly into this concept. So let it be…

And another helpful detail. If someone pees on your pant leg and yells in advance: «Don’t you dare hit me, I wasn’t misbehaving, I created a work of art that symbolizes this and that!» — don’t listen to him. Punch him in the face, take him to the police, and respond to complaints that now you are creating a new work of art with his participation, which symbolizes this and this — what exactly, it is not difficult to think up.

When Herostratus burned down the temple of Diana of Ephesus, he also hoped to achieve immortal fame in this way, i.e. he created a work of art by this arson — nowadays this would be called actionism.

But the local law enforcement authorities did not challenge this but simply gave him a drink of cicuta — the Greeks usually carried out the death penalty in this way. Art is art, but laws and customs take their place. If you want to overthrow or change them, do it if you can. But that’s politics, and art plays a secondary role.

And to deny that MONA is exactly art is unnecessary, useless, and will not succeed. There is one definition of art that helps in such situations, especially when it comes to the value of invisible paintings.

Once, I was walking along Andrew’s Descent. One of the artists asked me: «Tell me, please, why untalented people like you and Makarevich (the comparison is clearly not on music — just at that time on «Inter» my cooking program was broadcast on Saturday, and the Makarevich program — on Sunday) are swimming in gold, and I have a full studio of paintings, each of which is worth a hundred thousand dollars, but no money for a bottle of port?».

I answered the question with a question: «Are these paintings exactly worth a hundred thousand dollars each?» He became outraged: «And who decides that but me? I am their creator, their maker!». I replied: «There is a tricky point. A work of art is considered to be that which is recognized at least by one person other than the author who created it. And so is the value of paintings: as soon as at least one person wants to give a hundred thousand for your painting, it will be worth so much. And before that — no». And I went on my way without giving him a bottle of port. I don’t like rude men.

I’ll finish my story about invisible art with the words of Andre Maurois. «Understand me. I am not at all an opponent of new forms of art. Any shock is useful; it awakens you from sleep.

Shock is an integral part of a work of art. What one era finds incomprehensible, becomes commonplace for the next. The Impressionists were ridiculed, cursed, they long languished in poverty; today their paintings are the pride of museums…

I only ask you two things: do not despise the masters of the past; if their fame has reached our time, then they deserve it. Defend new forms only if you really like them. Do not be guided by public opinion. It is not a beacon, but wandering lights. Obey your own taste, respecting first and foremost those authors who countless generations have admired before you».

It seems right to me, and it doesn’t infringe on freedom of opinion in any way. Not even opinions about invisible paintings.


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