Modern and Contemporary Galleries, First Floor
Organized by the Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania, The Big Nothing is a Philadelphia-wide initiative that includes programs at more than thirty-five museums, science centers, and performing arts venues. The project aims to explore “nothing,“ a concept that has intrigued artists since the beginning of the twentieth century, when abstract art came to the fore. With its spiritual overtones and its absence of immediately recognizable subject matter, abstract art seemed especially suited to investigate themes of nothingness and the void. “No thing,“ “that which is nonexistent,“ and “something of no importance“ are just a few definitions of this all-encompassing term, which artists have interpreted as nihilism and negation, on the one hand, and absolute purity or the sublime, on the other.
More than a dozen works that address the idea of “nothing“ in its many forms are displayed throughout the nearby galleries. Identified by labels bearing The Big Nothing logo, these paintings, sculptures, and other objects from the museum’s extensive holdings of abstract and conceptual art provide an opportunity to examine this theme, which has been a recurring subject throughout history, from the ancient Buddhist notion of “Sunyata“ (or emptiness) to John Cage's 1949 “Lecture on Nothing,“ where he exclaimed “I have nothing to say / and I am saying it.“