As you can see here in these pictures taken in Tate Modern), Empty Shoe Box is basically what it says it is: an empty shoebox, lid placed underneath, left in the exhibition space to be overlooked, kicked, puzzled about or maybe just removed by unsuspecting visitors.

Gabriel Orozco Shoebox
Controversial? Gabriel Orozco's 'Empty Shoe Box' (1993)
Gabriel Orozco Empty Shoe Box
Gabriel Orozco's Empty Shoe Box at Tate Modern.
Gabriel Orozco Empty Shoe Box
Gabriel Orozco's Empty Shoe Box 1993

Gabriel has often said that he likes to disappoint people with his work. I think what he means is that he does not like to play into expectations or to exploit the popularity of one work or exhibition by continuing in the same vein. He used this expression to describe one of his most surprising and confounding works which he first showed at the Venice Biennial in 1993.

At Venice, where artists are always expected to put on their ‘best face,’ it was a brave act to make such a statement. Gabriel uses shoeboxes at home to house unfinished ideas and projects. Small sculptures and materials he is trying out are kept in these boxes until he feels like working on them some more. For this reason he has also referred to them as like a container for ideas. So the empty shoebox rather than being nothing could in fact be many things.


Susan Keshet

The shoebox? A completely convincing piece of well considered art.I wish I was brave enough to make art like this.

Well Heeled Guru

Concur... The artist has a perspective he wants to share and for others to experience or relate to or react to. I for one would think WTF, if I saw it, if I didn't know the context or background... That's human nature...


Actually Marcel Duchamp did do that. He inverted a urinal, and called it Fountain. Its considered a seminal piece of 20th Century Modern Art......I REALLY do not understand it!


When we saw the shoebox, we thought we could chuck rubbish in it, we thought it would be fun to boot the box across the room, it made us smile - who cares if it's art or not?

deirdre mcardle

R.I.P. Rap star Smiley Culture,see hit"Cockney Translation"vid on YT.


Pogus Ceasar's commentary on riots - this is so watchable and adds another note to Handsworth's history.


When I saw the shoebox in the middle of the floor, I thought someone had littered. :D I almost picked it up to throw away until I saw a museum worker watching over it !!! Too bad I figured it was part of the display too soon hahaha would have been a funny story

Loz Taylor

And this is where conceptualism will take us all in the end. A big fat dead end. Long live Demo-Art of any description. It will never lie to you. And please don't think I'm not hip - I'm the far future commenting on the near future.


I think it's a positive spin on what could be considered to be a negative trait--leaving unfinished works. I do much the same, though I don't restrict myself to shoe boxes. However, this could connote different things for different audiences; for example, before reading the text I immediately assumed that this was some sort of statement on post-feminism.

lisa damant

while reading the info on the artist it occurs to me the greater meaning is the audience participation so that it is a design with a purpose but what purpose- his was to disappoint so he succeded I think that it is a cop out as a piece of work- the audience disappointment maybe what he is aiming for but surely the simplicity of work would be enhance a thousand fold by engaing the audience not in disappointment - as that is what a lot of modern conceptual work does and he falls into the group of those who are ridiculed because they are not taken seriously- why not have had a series of shoe boxes around the Tate - the first empty the other with bits and pieces leading the audience to enquire more about him and why the work at home is unfinished where does it lead .....etc excite don;t be a sheep and fall into the trap of conceptual art that is often over looked - the shoe box is an exciting art tool so excite - use the creativity you have tqake it further explore the audience is imagination and ask them to create a shoe box art form you have a stepping to stone to imagination - step up

carmel micallef

A long time ago I did something similar.In my case I had a big empty box exhibited in a show. On it I wrote all the things one finds on a packaged box like;FRAGILE, ^TOP^ THIS WAY UP.on the inside I wrote a note saying that when you open the box you find nothing,but the fact that you opened the box you had expectations of finding something! this piece was really talked about and most were saying that this is not art. But if today's art will start a debate,then, in my idea,it is serving its purpose.

Giuseppe de Sica

I did not paid much attention to the shoe box. the same room had the DS to admire, an elevator to wonder and what i consider the most important piece, "Until You Find Another Yellow Schwalbe". beautiful photographs, masterfully arranged. if you watch the photos from the start and follow them in a clockwise move, you will realise that there is more that meets the eyes. It it was the work of a genius.


A load off pretentious b******s if you ask me :-)

Its like calling an image 'untitled'

It is kind of implying you can make art out of nothing,

or is it the generation of that exact question i just asked-that is the art element of the piece?

Still pretentious though

Dominic Timmis

I don't think its art, I think its just a gimmick, and I tired stunt at that, its all been done before with pop art movement, just take any everyday object, anything from a can of soup to pornography, and place it in a Gallery, and people call it art... is it really. I bet its a standard shop brought box as well, so I say its plagiarism... As a previous designer had to have designed it already another company had it made and if your luck, though i doubt it very much Gabriel Orozco placed it on the floor, though in all odds the museum set up the display, so all Gabriel Orozco did was say "heh! place a box on the floor will you"... I look forward to the box on the floor movement, to go with De Stijl, Bauhaus, Surrealism, Cubism and all the other great moments in History.


For me, anything can be art as long as someone claims it to be art. However, whether other people appreciate and respect it as a piece of art is another matter. In the case of this shoebox, I do not. I have no problems with conceptual art at all, but this leaves me completely cold.

Yogi Chan

Street art has demonstrated more thought, talent, technique and impact on culture than this. This sort of art just sucks. There is no skill in leaving a box lying around. Nothing special at all. Nothing to warrant me taking the time to see and understand it.


It's crap...simply put. Why have we come to a point where we have to intellectualize art? Art should be a visual enjoyment. Why does it have to spark a controversy or make a statement? It's an empty shoebox. I don't care why it's empty, I don't care what it symbolizes. It's an empty shoebox! Rubbish, garbage, trash. Perhaps that is what it symbolizes. Our willingness to accept it as art, because of our fear of feeling intellectually inferior by not understanding what it symbolizes.

Catherine Litton

Give me strength. Enough of this lazy pretentious rubbish.

M. Zeisel

Our brain must often be disconnected to recognize the beauty of simple things lie around. I even go on new years morning to take some shots of leftovers. I like this little box,it suits in the exhibition space , it says friendly hello!


I happen to like the idea of an empty box - so I find this quite brave and pretty interesting. The idea that people can get so snippy about a simple shoebox is amusing. Nobody said you should like it, it's art ... it provoked a response though didn't it?

steven ferrier

should be done for art fraud, its a fucking joke !

steven ferrier

we have come to a point in art where we can just use anything for art am quite sick of this crap and am a big lover of modern art and art across te spectrums please I find this is insulting my intellignce this is for the austere bourgoues ! actually we can do this then for any object and there are people that would say this is art and there are artists that are doing this namely Orozco ! We might as well call this the great art swindle ! So I best start coming up with some radical conceptaulisation then as for this modern mumbo jumbo can go take a running jump for me,oh thats what the shoe box is someone putting on their running shoes and leaving the box and taking that running jump !



Kealy Long

To me Art shows skill, talent or an interesting/beautiful idea. This empty shoe box does none of these, placing a box of the floor does not make it Art, conceptual or not.


The only thing remarkable about this "piece" lies in its masterful trolling skill. In this respect alone, it succeeds with shameless audacity. The fact that it is even being discussed rather than kicked to the nearest recycling bin is proof of concept.

A "work of art" used to mean something; implying a product of great skill and technique. Now it is simply a demonstration of one's ability to spur discussion amongst people about how their intelligence has been insulted.


Just because it spurs a discussion does not qualify it as art. Rubbish on the side of the road can spur a discussion. Does that qualify it as art?

Diane Griffin

It's not funny and it's certainly not clever. Yawn!

Christine Gibbs

No, despite all the pretentious artspeak, it is not art. It is a shoebox. Get real. Art involves creativity. Placing a shoebox on the floor is more akin to littering!


If you have to give a lengthy description and justification of why something is art; it probably isn't.

And I think this might be the first time the more extreme end of modern 'absent' art has actually made me say that, which in itself is rather sad.

deirdre mcardle

" Post - Feminism " eh, I've been wondering who all those shoes were for !

Sheila K Shackleton

So Orozco aims to disappoint. Well he failed miserably there.To be disappointed we must first expect and its been a very long time since I expected anything from pompous arrogant individuals masquerading as artists. The only thing he seems to have suceeded in is to start yet another controversial art debate

Penny Reinecke

I have lots of these sorts of works of art in my wardrobe. I keep my works of art shoes in them. I keep the boxes specifically - to make sure the value of my work of art (in other word designer) shoes will increase in the future. Just like a work of art really. So the shoe box is simply a part of the art. So I am not so sure that this was an original idea. Good try though.


I want to have a "nihilism" exhibit where all the works are empty spaces. You can't deny that it's art because it's making a statement about the emptiness of modern art. Who's with me on this? I think we can make this happen :P

Andrew Parker

Honestly, if you used more than 3 minutes to come to the conclusion that this is utter crap, then you're bonkers. Art should need no explanation yet this relies on a detailed artists statement to justify it's existence. FAIL.


I always think that regardless of whether I personally am enthralled by the work,that respect should always be given to the skill being exhibited (whatever that skill might be, i.e the idea or creation). And I dont see an awful lot of skill here, however somebody else might do?

Karen de Paor

As an artist I am completely adverse to this kind of art. I find it ridicules those of us who do actually spent time on a piece and take pride in it! The art of the 'unfinished work' is not a particularly new concept, perhaps one of the most famous examples is Leonardo da Vinci! However, I do understand the general message of the piece, but it seems to be an too much for too little. If one was familiar with the artist then maybe the 'shoe box' may hold some significance. Of course, this is all a round -about ploy to increase awareness of this artist and his work, and recognition must be made of that. Unfortunately, we all must exist under the banner of 'artist', though we exist unequally!




It makes me think of Hope, with the events going on in the world. Hope, that one day healing will return.


This makes me think of all the animal penises all around.

Allan Davies

We have reached some kind of nadir here. I'm generally not a fan of conceptual work, but I can (grudgingly) accept that others might find something in it. In this case, I'm struck by the largely negative tone of the majority of the comments here. I suspect that this idiot (no, he's not an artist, sorry) has managed to do soemthing which actually makes the world a slightly worse place than it was before.

We are all lessened by this, Tate more than most.

Controversy does not automatically equal quality.


when i first followed this link through from twitter, i was curious about what the box looked like- if it itself had artistic merit. however, it seems that the spin has been put on the box, and not the whole exhibition as a whole. i havent seen it, but from reading the article it sounds as though the box is in a room displaying many examples of the artists work. those new to the artist would naturally look at the walls etc, but the keen fans are more likely to notice the box and take this on board as a comment from the artist. if boxes are where he stores unfinished ideas and this box is empty, then it means all the pieces in the room are finished.

its a bit like a novelist adding a page at the back of their saying they like to eat egg on toast at 10am then write for 3 hours- its not the page where they demonstrate their dazzling literary talent, but where they allow the audience to engage with the artist as human, as someone doing a job. i agree that if this was just a box in a room, end of and someone was calling that art i would probably take issue, but i think in this case context is king.


It's about context. The artist doesn't just decide to put a box on the floor. The action is the result of an ongoing process - the artists process - most likely a lifes work. In some cases it's about physical experiments - painting/sculpture - and sometimes it's about thoughts and ideas. To say this isn't art or doesn't require 'skill' is missing the point. What makes this art is that it has been presented as such. We are being asked to 'consider' this object. Many of the comments on here fall into ignorant tabloid outrage because it's 'just a box'. I believe the artist had good reason for presenting this piece but whatever that reason is, it's unimportant. Some will engage with it, others won't. I for one find it strangely poetic ... others just see an empty box.


The prespectives... numerous. The feelings lay in both sides of human intellectuality. A very delicate balance emerges.


One day someone decided on the colour and dimensions for the box and so it was designed and created = a piece of art?

Regine Bartsch

I like the serrated edges..

Regine Bartsch

I like the serrated edges of the box


This is cutting edge. I wonder how long before someone puts a toilet in a gallery or declares the selection of prefabricated or manufactured objects by an artist actual pieces of art?! Think of the conceptual underpinnings and new ground that will be broken when this happens...


I can not believe The Tate Modern of all Institutions is involved such fruitless exercises,i want to turn this on its head, is a picture of an Horse Art(George Stubbs' Whistlejacket. Went to the National for quick half hour after Gabriel Orozco's stunning show)or a picture of a Cathedral.Is mastering Technique what constitutes Art,no.So stop this pointless debate that belongs in the Neanderthal Daily Mail and celbrate a Great Exhibition

Jon Burns

"left in the exhibition space to be overlooked, kicked, puzzled about or maybe just removed by unsuspecting visitors."

Warning: A friend and I read the above and moved said box to see if there was anything more to it... Got severely ticked off by gallery staff who called the curator down! Whoops.

Nice exhibition tho, 'Until You Find Another Yellow Schwalbe' is a beautiful series of pictures. Well worth a visit... Just don't touch the box!

Miranda Stork

I understand that there is a meaning that has been attached to the shoebox, and that's all very well and good. But art is not just a meaning, or skill, or even talent, or how other people view it. It is also blood, sweat, and tears. Effort.I wonder how much effort was put into an empty shoebox on the floor...I think that is a real six in the morning decision.