Monday, November 21, 2016

White Cubes

Lewis Bush over at disphotic has a piece railing against the White Cube style of gallery, the featureless white rooms in which Art is displayed. He cites a piece by Jonathan Jones of the Guardian on the same subject. Jones makes an interesting remark in his piece.

But what is really happening is that the white space of the gallery authorises the object as art: this is why commercial galleries like White Cube (the clue is in the name) and Gagosian opt for that purity.

and then he wanders off complaining that it is the business of these places to persuade collectors to part with lots of money for Art. He's right, but only partly so.

It is literally the job of Gagosian and so on to authorize objects at Art. That's their function. Someone's got to do it, especially in this world awash in excellent work. They are the gatekeepers. Yes, part of the result of this is soothing the wealthy and assuring them that their expenditures are a good idea. Part of it is indeed to make it be a good idea by blessing those works as important and valuable. Part of it is to separate for everyone in the world what pieces matter and which, perhaps with regret, we must consign to to dustbin of history.

These people, these galleries, are building the modern art history. They're reaching into the maelstrom, and pulling out work. Work which is, contrary to Jones' ongoing populist ranting about crummy modern art, actually says something, means something. Work that flows from previous work, and provides the basis for the next generation, and so on. They weave the tapestry of what will be the Art History of this millennium. It's their job.

If white walls help them do their job, well, so be it. I'm ok with it.

I did enjoy the joke about painting the walls red, though.


  1. "These people, these galleries, are building the modern art history"

    ... as determined by the worshippers of Mammon and their excellent, infallible, taste.

    1. Well, yes, but so it has always been! The Medici were not exactly a bunch of sweethearts, but some of their clients (i.e. the artists they championed/supported) seem to have worked out OK in the wash.

      Even now the outré and incomprehensible garbage of 30 years ago is starting to look a little less rubbishy, here and there. Or perhaps I'm just getting softer in the head.

      I'm more optimistic than most people are about the process, gruesome as it is.

  2. This is an entertaining read if you want to go beyond Mammon (or into Mammon's maw, depending on your views):

  3. Hi Andrew,
    Yep, I find his argument a little hypocritical.

    This is the comment I left on his post.

    "Let me see – you have a display in cells of a former police station stating that it’s form is in effect as a camera obscura. You also say it is uncompromising,

    I may be a little bit confused here, but exactly how is that different in essence than a ‘white cube’ gallery?

    It seems that you are speaking against one thing whilst in effect doing something similar.
    That is – using a space because you deem it appropriate for the display. Isn’t that just the same as the galleries that you speak against?"

    Of course, if I have misread it, please let me know. He basically extols one thin, while denying others the right to do essentially the same - or have I got the wrong handle on it?


  4. Ceilings, above all, should be red.

    1. I smiled at that, Nigli. Let's do it in honour of Mr Eggleston. Or maybe even Mr Lynch with a Twin Peaks reference.
      After all, that surely was Art :-)

  5. I thought that the white walls were to minimize the "where-the-HELL-is-Waldo" effect - laik… "here's Monet, here's Karsh, here's Ansel, here's some fashion sketches by Siriano - perhaps this surrounding blank whiteness will help your (my) skittery little attention span to pay attention to THEM, not all the other stuff, cuz there's no other stuff."
    I simply don't buy things cuz the other stuff is white…not that I'm saying that I buy really expensive things, but surely it's the thing and not the surround that recommends?

    But the viewpoints are interesting, that it's a rebellion against older style of art and so on. That said, I did not particularly enjoy the pile of crabs on the posh carpet, or the marble tourist telescopes. I just feel a bit impatient in the face of that sort of thing. But I guess this is our age of art that has not yet been particularly sifted by time, arbiters, purchasers, and so on.
    (my GOD, the awful, horrible, SHITTY modern plays that I have endured in the name of helping sift-for-the-future-generations, they should be SO grateful to me…)