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Minor Canon

Robert Barry Inert Gas Series mug

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Robert Barry (b. 1936) is an American artist. Since 1967, Barry has produced non-material works of art, installations, and performance art using a variety of otherwise invisible media. In 1968, Robert Barry is quoted as saying "Nothing seems to me the most potent thing in the world."

In 1969, he produced a piece titled Inert Gas Series/Helium, Neon, Argon, Krypton, Xenon/From a Measured Volume to Indefinite Expansion. The work was the release, by the artist, of five measured volumes of odorless, colorless, noble gasses into the atmosphere in various locations surrounding Los Angeles, where they would diffuse and expand naturally into infinity.

While documentary photographs were taken of the action of the releases, the only physically tangible evidence of the work would remain the exhibition poster, published by the New York art dealer Seth Siegelaub, who stated, “He has done something and it’s definitely changing the world, however infinitesimally. He has put something into the world but you just can’t see it or measure it. Something real but imperceptible.”

The poster itself was almost entirely blank, with a single line of text at the bottom indicating the work's title, an address, and a phone number (the "exhibition" had neither a location nor a date, as it was effectively a private performance that occurred outdoors). The address is a post-office box, and the telephone number for the gallery is an answering service with a recorded message describing the “work.”

Jörg Heiser wrote that "Robert Barry's 'Inert Gas Series' can be read in the strict sense of art-referential, quasi-scientific criticism of art-object fetishism: instead of producing another physically present piece, he released, for example, a litre of argon into the air on 4 March 1969 - Argon [from a Measured Volume to Indefinite Expansion] (1969). But there is also a strongly romantic undercurrent in the way the piece was actually executed and explained. The release took place on a beach in Santa Monica, California, and the documentary photo shows a fragile glass flask against an empty Pacific horizon. In an accompanying statement Barry explains what he likes about the physical qualities of an inert gas: it is 'imperceptible - it does not combine with any other element. [...] It continues to expand forever in the atmosphere, constantly changing, and it does all of this without anybody being able to see it.' Barry's gas behaves pretty much like the romantic soul: ephemeral, alien to the environment, open-ended, fluid, disappearing."

This mug reproduces the layout of that poster: blank white except for the same line of text around the bottom, in a facsimile of the original font. You can drink anything you like out of it, or simply display it as-is: full of the ambient air, which, in most places on earth is about 78 percent nitrogen, 21 percent oxygen, 0.9 percent argon, and 0.1 percent other gases.

• Ceramic
• 11 oz mug dimensions: 3.85″ (9.8 cm) in height, 3.35″ (8.5 cm) in diameter
• Dishwasher and microwave safe
• Blank product sourced from China