10 Artworks That Don’t Really “Exist”

Last week, the Museum of Modern Art made a very important purchase, acquiring 4 minutes and 3 seconds of… nothing, just “three folded sheets of almost blank onionskin paper” — notation for conceptual artist John Cage’s 4’33”, a piece of music with no musical notes whatsoever. A silent orchestra. A conductor with a stopwatch. Instead of strings and horns, the audience experiences the sounds of waiting, of their own murmur, or — as in the open-air auditorium in Woodstock, where the piece premiered in the ’50s — of the rain, the shuddering of trees, the wind, and the piano player closing and opening the instrument that was never played. Subtle? Hokey? Radical? Here’s to work that doesn’t actually “exist” in a traditional sense, but makes its audience think, sense and feel. Calling all knee-jerking “This isn’t art!” trolls: I hope you’re ready. Here are 10 more silent, blank, absent and amazing works of art.

Robert Rauschenberg’s White Paintings (1951) inspired John Cage’s 4’33”. The canvases appeared all white, but they were not “blank.” They were what John Cage described “airports of the lights, shadows and particles” — hypersensitive surfaces that picked up and displayed any subtle change in the room’s ambiance and social composition. They were there to frame and focus the audience’s perception — paintings in the purest sense.