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Secrets as Artworks

Marcel Duchamp
Man Ray

À Bruit Secret, 1916

L'Énigme d'Isidore Ducasse, 1920

Ben Vautier: Boîtes Mystères
Walter de Maria

boîte mystère

à l'instant où elle sera ouverte elle perd toute valeur esthétique



Cette boîte perd toute sa valeur et signification esthétique en tant qu'oeuvre d'art (mystère) à l'instant où elle est ouverte.

I have built a box eight feet high. On top place a small gold ball. Of course no one will be able to see the ball sitting way up there on the box. I will just know it is there.

Column with a Ball on Top, 1961


Christo Javacheff: Empaquetages

Wrapped Painting, 1968

  More wrappings by Christo

  Cover-ups by Christo

Package, 1961

Package, 1963

Package, 1961

Piero Manzoni: Pacchi (1961-1962)

Maurice Lemaître

Sculpture Inimaginable, 1964

Art & Language

Secret Painting, 1967

["The content of this painting is invisible; the character and dimension of the content are to be kept permanently secret, known only to the artist."]

Sol LeWitt


The Buried Cube, 1968
[Sealed metal cube with unknown contents is buried in the garden of Martin & Mia Visser, Bergeyk, The Netherlands.]

Stephen Kaltenbach

Time Capsule, 1970

Ray Johnson

Untitled, 1970. [Sealed Box]


In Saïs, the statue of Athena, whom they equate with Isis, bore the inscription: “I am all that has been, and is, and shall be; no mortal has yet raised my veil.”

Plutarch, On Isis and Osiris, § 9 (354 C).

Christ did not hide truths in order to prevent them from being communicated, but in order to provoke desire for them by this very concealment.

Saint Augustine: Sermons, 51, 4, 5.

The more these things seem to be obscured by figurative words, the sweeter they become when they are explained.

Saint Augustine: On Christian Doctrine, iv, vii, 15.

But in order that manifest truths should not become tiring, they have been covered with a veil, while remaining unchanged, and thus they become the object of desire; being desired, they are in a way made young again; with their youth restored, they enter the spirit gently.

Saint Augustine: Letters, 137, V, 18.

These things are veiled in figures, in garments as it were, in order that they may exercise the mind of the pious inquirer, and not become cheap for being bare and obvious ... For being remote, they are more ardently desired, and for being desired they are more joyfully discovered.

Saint Augustine: Against Lying, X, 24.

Vielleicht ist nie etwas Erhabeneres gesagt oder eine Gedanke erhabener ausgedrückt worden als in jener Aufschrift über dem Tempel der Isis (der Mutter Natur): "Ich bin alles was da ist, was da war und was da sein wird, und meinen Schleier hat kein Sterblicher aufgedeckt."

[Perhaps nothing more sublime has ever been said or a thought has been expressed more sublimely, than in that inscription on the temple of Isis (Mother Nature): “I am all that is, that has been, and that shall be, and no mortal has raised my veil.”]

Immanuel Kant: Kritik der Urteilskraft, 1790. (§ 49, footnote.)



Walter de Maria's "Column with a Ball on Top" is  one of the pieces dealing with secrecy among his "Compositions, Essays, Meaningless Work, Natural Disasters" in: La Monte Young & Jackson Mac Low (eds.): An Anthology. New York, 1963.

The veil of Isis is discussed at length in a monograph by Pierre Hadot: The Veil of Isis. An Essay on the History of the Idea of Nature. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006.

The pronouncements by Saint Augustine were taken from pp. 76/77 of the English translation of Tzvetan Todorov: Théories du Symbole (Paris: Éd. du Seuil, 1977). [English translation by Catherine Porter: Theories of the Symbol. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1982]