The Gallery of Lost Art
An innovative online exhibition reveals the stories behind lost artworks by some of the world’s most famous modern and contemporary artists.
The Gallery of Lost Art is an immersive, online exhibition that tells the stories of modern and contemporary artworks that have disappeared. Destroyed, stolen, discarded, rejected, erased, ephemeral—some of the most significant artworks of the last 100 years have been lost and can no longer be seen.
Set within a warehouse-like space through which the visitor can wander at will, the Gallery of Lost Art presents the stories of lost art through research materials (letters, photographs, news clippings, audio tracks, and films), grouped informally on individual tables as if they were items in an actual archive. Throughout the exhibition people are shown looking at the materials, thumbing through the documents, reading associated texts and watching films on laptops—with an implicit invitation for visitors to join these people in exploring the varied evidence of the missing works’ existence and eventual loss.
Curated by Tate, and produced in partnership with Channel 4, with additional support from The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), this virtual year-long exhibition explores the sometimes extraordinary and sometimes banal circumstances behind the loss of major works of art. Using archival images, films, interviews, blogs, essays, and links to internet resources, the exhibition focuses on the loss of works by over forty artists across the twentieth century. These include such figures as Marcel Duchamp, Frida Kahlo, Willem de Kooning, Kazimir Malevich, Joan Miró, and Rachel Whiteread.
The exhibition shows how recent art can fall victim to fire, theft, war, neglect, and sheer bad luck as easily as art of the past. It also highlights the range of forms that loss can take. Loss can be temporary (in the case of stolen works) or permanent. It can also be accidental or intentional, the product of decisions made by artists or the owners of artworks.
Jennifer Mundy, curator of The Gallery of Lost Art, says: ‘Art history tends to be the history of what has survived. But loss has shaped our sense of art’s history in ways that we are often not aware of.’
‘Museums normally tell stories through the objects they have in their collections. But this exhibition focuses on significant works that cannot be seen. It explores the potential of the digital realm to bring these lost artworks back to life—not as virtual replicas but through visual evidence and the stories surrounding them.’
Many artists produce works that are intentionally short-lived or ephemeral, and in this sense embrace loss as a condition of their work. And although loss is often a matter of deep regret, it can also be a source of creativity, with incomplete or damaged works taking on a second life as ‘relics’ or spurring artists to create new works. It can even be a subject of art itself. In 1953 the American artist Robert Rauschenberg famously created a work by erasing a drawing by Willem de Kooning.
This act of defacing a fellow artist’s work is given a new twist by artists Jake and Dinos Chapman, who buy early nineteenth-century Goya etchings and then draw over them, as Jake Chapman explains in a film made for the exhibition: ‘We decided to draw on Goya. The point of Goya making the work was about wide dissemination … but what we’re doing is rarifying the work by drawing on it, so we can deplete the numbers that are available.’
The Gallery of Lost Art will last for one year before itself being lost. It launches with over twenty artworks, with a new work being added each week for the next six months. The site also provides a platform for interaction, discussion, and commentary on the subject of lost art as a whole.
Tate and Channel 4’s collaboration on The Gallery of Lost Art is rooted in a shared commitment to high-quality arts content, creativity, and digital innovation.
Jane Burton, Head of Content and Creative Director, Tate Media, says: ‘The Gallery of Lost Art is a ghost museum, a place of shadows and traces. It could only ever exist virtually. The challenge was to come up with a way of showcasing these artworks and telling their stories, when, in many cases, poor-quality images are all we have left of them. The result is a new way of looking at art: an immersive website in the form of a vast warehouse, where visitors can explore the evidence laid out for them. Soundscapes and documentary films add to the rich content experience. We’re delighted to have worked with the digital design agency ISO to realise the project.’
Jess Ptak is a Master of Arts candidate in English Literature at Mercy College. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature from Pace University in Pleasantville, New York. Jess lives in the Hudson Valley with her family, where she enjoys crafting handmade stationery and spending time with her husband and daughter.