Nothing is not something in the eyes of the law

A regional court in the German city of Mannheim have ruled that an artist’s site-specific work in the city’s art museum can be destroyed and not rebuilt.

‘HHole’, a multi-media installation which includes a hole drilled through several stories of the building, was made by the artist Nathalie Braun Barends in 2006 during a residency in the museum. However, recent plans for expansion have meant that the museum have decided to remove it during the course of construction. 

Braun Barends took the museum to court, arguing her case on the basis of copyright legislation and also a history of artists using ‘nothing’ in the creation of their works.

The court ruled in favour of the museum, who argued that they were the owners and could do what they liked with their artwork. They also pointed out that this work had been problematic from the start. The uncovered hole had presented a threat to health and safety, and a security guard had had to be employed to guard it at great expense.  They allege that Braun Barends had rejected the compromise of covering it with a protective perspex lid.

The artist has been awarded compensation of 66,000 Euros, and the building of the new Kunsthalle will proceed. In this case at least, less really does mean more.

For further details on the work itself, see its dedicated website.

One thought on “Nothing is not something in the eyes of the law

  1. Massimiliano Salino says:

    Dear Sir
    This article is misleading and lacking in factual basis.
    It is in need of clarification.
    First of all, although the artwork was conceived of as a permanent multimedia installation, it is in fact a loan. This is clearly stated in the “loan” contract signed by the artist and the director of the museum. As such, Kunsthalle Mannheim is not the owner of “HHole (for Mannheim 2006-∞),” (and neither is “PHaradise,” another artwork that will be addressed later by the same court in Mannheim).

    Furthermore, HHole should not be belittled as no more than holes through seven floors: it is a multimedia installation with photos, video, artworks, etc. on each floor. This is clearly explained on the web page If your writers had done their research, the brief description at the website clearly explains the fact that HHole is not just “nothing,” but is in fact a complex, intriguing and awe-inspiring work of art.
    Local newspapers incorrectly assert that the costs associated with the safety issues incurred by the museum regarding the openings should be the artist’s responsibility. However, they fail to state the facts. The Artwork was conceived by NatHalie Braun Barends, but was built by the engineers, skilled workers and staff of the museum itself. Therefore any safety issues are solely the Museum’s responsibility.
    Additionally, the chief of security at the museum did not advise the director for the need of firefighters because acccording to later informations the museum staff was already trained for that. Testimony at court, court photo exhibits and the description provided at the website ( all point to the fact that the artist did not refuse to close the Holes with fireproof glasses as you stated in your article.
    This is just another pathetic example of how business and money can distort reality, or as Rüdiger Soldt wrote on Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung: “In der ganzen Republik ist der Streit über das „Mannemer Loch“ mittlerweile zum Synonym für die Unfähigkeit einer Stadtverwaltung geworden, eine Kunsthalle ordentlich zu führen.”
    Roughly translated: “Throughout the Republic the dispute over the ‘Mannemer Hole’ has become a synonym for the inability of a city government to carry out a Kunsthalle neatly.”
    And the story is not finished…
    Best Regards
    Massimiliano Salino


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