Monday, June 12, 2023

The White Cube

The Mainstream White Cube art community is a curious beast, at least on the photography side.

It seems mandatory for members of the community to deny membership (Fight Club?) and indeed to denigrate the community and its mores. Lewis Bush has made a kind of a career out of bitching about White Cube Art, while simultaneously feasting on its meagre provender as often as possible.

Jörg Colberg lunges relentlessly back and forth between complaining about it and wallowing in it. Most of his output is the vague waffle that is the standard "critical writing" that emerges, but occasionally he really goes off on a rant and decries the whole thing causing me to think "why are we not more sympatico?" (Jörg hates my guts, which I have absolutely earned, but we do think along the same lines from time to time.)

The C4 Journal people, both of whom I know slightly, seem to be thoroughly grounded normal-ass people, who nevertheless engage is a lot of the vague waffle and identity-driven "criticism" that's expected. Most recently, as commenter David S. pointed out, they published a review of Lewis Bush's book; a review written by Lewis Bush for some reason. The reviewer seemed to think the book was pretty good. Interestingly, the review specifically addresses a few questions I had about the book, so that's nice! I see you, Lewis, and I appreciate the response! Drop me an email some time.

The whole thing leads me to suspect that everyone inside the White Cube hates it, yearns to rebel against it, and yet cannot because however slender the gruel, this is where the trough is. It appears to be a prison of their own making!

There's a vague notion that it's Deutsche Bank and so on that are driving the thing, the Large Capitalist donors that Force Us to be such worthless idiots!!!! Except that Deutsche Bank doesn't, itself, give a damn what you do. They fund this stuff on the advice of... you guys. The funding decisions are ultimately made by more or less the same self-hating White Cube denizens.

If I were making a prison for myself and my friends, it would be a lot cooler, and a hell of a lot more fun. This one seems really dismal.

My Cube would be pink, there would be loud music, and we'd make fun of one another relentlessly. Also, we'd make cool-ass art that doesn't suck.


  1. Aren't many of these projects crowd-funded, even if they are being pitched to mainly white cube-adjacent cultural workers (who else has even the slightest inkling that 'photobooks' are a thing)?

    1. This is accurate most of the time yeah. Folks like Jorg, Feuerhelm etc are still going because of patreon mostly.

      You both don't quite seem to know what the wider scene is like just going off what I've read here though -- our main readership is: working photographers, hobbyist zinemakers, art nerds, musicians and even skater types, and that kind of cohort turns up to gallery events too in my experience.

      I don't know about Lewis's article or which are vague/idpol as I've not been involved with C4 for a long while (though I will say that I try to be lenient towards the identity driven stuff as even though I often find it excessively American and lacking rigour, I've had to deal with iron fist, party-line editors before and find them unbearable) but I will say: even before, nobody involved with big galleries, fairs etc ever contacts me and v/v --- the skater-dude-book-nerds who started a press in a storage unit types we occasionally Collab with are more fun to be around.

      It's easy for one to forget, when imagining slightly too fantastically what the lives of those towards whom one feels (based on what i see on twitter about colberg et al) intense negativity might be like, that a 'platform' that is ostensibly in the white cube system like Conscientious or C4 or Paper Journal etc is literally nothing more than a wordpress blog with Some Dude at the wheel, and cannot in reality even approximate massive businesses like e.g. FOAM, Edouard Malingue or Aesthetica. C4 is basically self-funded and we just happen to have lots of friends who like writing, and I wouldn't be surprised if the others mentioned --none of whom I really care for either-- are really very similar in terms of both opportunities and resources.

      They all seem to want to be in high level institutional/industry positions and while their aspirations are naive, I do appreciate mid-level influencer-bloggers pointing to mildly shitty things that needn't be so, as there are many talented photographers who should probably know before they go thinking they can make a dent in that sphere when the skaterbros are more fun and easier to work with

    2. I view The White Cube as rather like an onion. Everyone is somewhere in it, even me, and everyone mostly notices the inner layers from which they are excluded, to which they aspire, and at which they feel obligated to sneer.

      Guys like Bush are pretty far into the onion, but by no means at the center! I don't know if there even *is* a center, maybe it's just endlessly nested ever-more-inner sanctums. Or maybe it's Larry Gagosian in the middle.

      The illusion of being "outside" is enhanced by the fact that virtually everything is a shoestring operation. "We MUST be outsiders, we're literally 3 volunteers and a part-time office manager!" but that describes virtually everyone.

      Take, for instance, BJP. The grand institution!!!!

      Their current editor, Izabela Zhang, was an editorial intern in 2016 and rose to become the managing editor in 2020. No shade on Zhang, who is probably marvelous, but the rise from intern to boss in 4 years reveals something about the structure of the institution; it's just not that big or well funded.

      Obviously there are a few well-funded and well-staffed institutions out there, but the vast majority of the whole Art World operation is tiny shoestring operations fronting as Important Institutions.

      C4 is a real force despite being, I guess, three volunteers and a blog, or whatever it actually is!

      Art Basel notes that the Art World in total is around a $60B business which sounds like a lot until you realize that it employs 3 *million* people and covers 10s of 1000s of institutions. Sure there's a few assholes actually accumulating a lot of money, but they're really rare, and they're not actually taking that many of the cookies. Most of money is going to pay part-time office managers at the Dumpy No-Name Foundation which puts on the Briefly Important But Now Moribund Festival.

      I think we essentially agree on the structures, I just think that the shoestring operations actually *are* the White Cube that they decry and aspire to.

    3. 'The white cube' seems to be a metaphor that means different things to different people. To me, it speaks to conventional modes and ways of thinking about presentation (the financial aspect is a red herring; there's no evidence that ample funding changes the fundamental mindset). Books, gallery showings and the marketing thereof often have this weird, quasi-religious and ritualistic quality. Art has had religious associations since forever, and maybe we present-day artists have it in mind to cover our shabby concoctions with ersatz glory, through staging alone. A shortcut to poorly defined, and perhaps unworthy ambitions.