Beyond the ‘white cube’ – Make a critique of new curatorial practices.

An Introduction to the ‘white cube’ In making a critique of curatorial practices that are defined by their point after the watershed of the white cube notion, it is important to understand that concept to see whether they have been successful in developing curatorial practice between now and then. We shall go on to look at how new curatorial practices, which claim to dispel the atmosphere of the white cube, are favoured by funding organisations, and what they see as desirable in new practice. This also raises the contention that practices may be implemented to secure funding opposed to more altruistic reasons. From here we shall look at two particular aspects of new curatorial practice: empowering the audience in an existing space, and altering the space to stimulate engagement in the audience. We will evaluate the practicalities and wider connotations of these aspects, seeing what can be achieved through innovative new practice. In conclusion I hope to demonstrate how new curatorial practices can help provide fresh context in which to rediscover art. New developments in curatorial practice may be accused of being gimmicks, or lip service to egalitarian notions of art, and on occasion (either knowingly or not) they may be used thus. But when used positively, it is new curatorial practice that is capable of driving art experience forward – allowing us to engage in better relationships with art as a whole.

or indeed permissive of anything unsanctioned by the institution. Walls are painted white. O’Doherty offers a scathing view of curatorial practices from forty years ago that is worryingly familiar today: “A gallery is constructed along laws as rigorous as those for building a church. The exhibition celebrated the work of O’Doherty. the mystique of the experimental laboratory”. The ceiling becomes the source of light. held at New York University’s ‘Grey’ gallery. We can look at alternative location in more detail further on. The wooden floor is polished so that you click along clinically or carpeted so you pad soundlessly…The discreet desk may be the only piece of furniture. isolated with “the sanctity of the church. and pertinent. If not in a physical sense then certainly the essence of the criticism persists. O’Doherty describes an intense and rigorous space. Does the Maxxi Gallery in Rome. collapse the essence of O’Doherty’s criticism above – or is it merely the equivalent of the Sagrada Familia. nor conducive to freethinking. a breathtaking new exterior housing a traditional dogma. an artist with particular interest in exhibition space and its impact upon forthcoming art.Inside the White Cube ‘Beyond the White Cube’ was the title of Brian O’Doherty’s retrospective exhibition of 2007. designed by Zaha Hadid. We can imagine the feel of the place – it is not a location welcoming to the spectrum of human emotion. The outside world must not come in. In 1976 O’Doherty first published his essay ‘Inside the White Cube: The Ideology of the Gallery Spacei’ in Artforum magazine. The essay was republished in book form and is still available. In his essay. Of course there are many galleries today that have been designed along breathtaking new contours. so windows are usually sealed off. the formality of the courtroom. today. . In this context a standing ashtray becomes almost a sacred object”.

elitist art culture.O’Doherty elaborates the negative effect this space has upon the visitor. in intrusion. The ACE’s criteria for funding are all combative of the white cube mentality in both institution and visitor. securing funding will certainly impact curatorial practicalities. Indeed the presence of that odd piece of furniture. and if you must intrude you are pressured into subservience. This position would seem to show the Governments commitment to positive engagement to art. But. However. Evidence of on-going struggle against the notion can be clearly seen in the government funding body. . the white-cube notion is persistent in the minds of visitorsii and art institutions. your own body. creating footfall fuelled fun parks with an eye on eventual self sustainability. Whilst a detailed examination is beyond the remit of this paperiv. as we shall examine later. and engender a segregated. seems superfluous. although a more confrontational stance might view this as a debate along the lines of the ‘Democracy of Spectacle’ as laid out in K. No wonder that we sought to distance ourselves from this concept of an art space through new curatorial practices. Arts Council England (ACE). Schubert’s ‘The Curator’s Egg’iii. We shall look at the ACE’s criteria for awarding funding to augment the critique of new curatorial practices. with little practical evidence of their use in transgressing O’Doherty’s concept. one has to have died already to be there. having seen the ACE criteria we may keep in mind the argument – are institutions implementing practices claiming to go beyond the white cube to secure funding. continuing from his discourse on how the white cube vacuums any time from the space: “This eternity gives the gallery a limbolike status.” So O’Doherty completes the concept of the white cube . to the majority of environment that doesn’t want visitors. The spaces that should disseminate art to a populace would in fact deter them from taking an interest.

Diversity is the drive to broaden the art audience. and feel involved and engaged by the experience. the Independent Curators International held a symposium titled ‘Beyond the White Cube II’vii. In May of 2010. By excellence they refer to an outstanding experience of outstanding art. . It’s even better if the recipient of the funding can pursue and develop positive new practices. Engagement refers to the attempt to make these experiences meaningful to the participant. engagement. pioneering for others. Innovation the hope that the art spaces will challenge and develop the idea of art and art based events. These are excellence. The conference looked at collaboration in practice. The ACE would like to see more people from a wider demographic attend well-presented events of outstanding art. Reach is the criteria by which they seek to bring more people to attend the art events. diversity and innovation. This is the antithesis of the white cube. with wider aims to examine the methods in which curators were rethinking their roles. the gallery looking to stimulate its audience and move forward in technique.Funding New Curatorial Practices I refer to the Arts Council England (ACE) document ‘Achieving Great Art for Everyone’v as a guide to criteria assessed by funding bodies. The exorcism of the white cube is still in progress – let us examine some of the new practices curators may utilise. The visitor feels encouraged to visit the space and can engage with the work critically. Whilst the ACE is by no means the only funding organisation available to galleries. it is one of the larger sources of revenue for a high number of art spacesvi. The document lists five distinct outcomes they would like to see from their investment. reach.

visitors have access to computing power in their pockets in the form of mobile phones. Aside from the odd. However works of art have always been available outside the gallery. for social uses as well as exchange of ideas and information. With so many people creating and sharing so much online. Technology has also moved information into the gallery as well as taken the art out of it. and may engage with art through. An audience with the Internet in their pocket is not ignored. which turns the collection into a giant game of Top Trumps.Empower Your Audience : Digital Augmentation Technological development from the point when O’Doherty first outlined the white cube has been massive. menace and absurdityx. as in the Tate’s flagship application. Increasingly. Audio guides have been a part of the museum culture for a long time. institutions offer downloadable applications with guides to the collection or information about upcoming events.we can use Google Art Project to view seventeen institutions and see work in previously unseen detail or conditionsviii. such as at the Museum of Modern Art. Electronic guides to a gallery space are not new. dejected looking P. has impacted upon nearly all spheres of life. the approach to how we discover and engage with culture alters. Gallery visitors have access to. including contemporary curatorial practices. rating the art in terms of exhilaration.C in the corner of the gallery. It seeks to enfranchise the visitor – turning them from passive observer to active navigator – by allowing them their own guide to the space and encouraging them to create a unique . The advances in communication. this is not so much a new curatorial practiceix as a much quicker and cheaper alternative to art books. There may be interaction with the collection in the form of a game or challenge. computers . The advantage of this new technology as guide resides in it’s flexibility and interactivity: a visitor can make their own path through the gallery space. finding information on the pieces they want to. or ignoring rooms altogether.

and has a more beneficial experience as a result. afford the outlay and has an extensive collection. institution. They may want to engage with the work on a personal level without constant reference. Whilst they may not yet be able to physically collect the works they want to see together. an area capable of . There is another level of digital augmentation of a gallery space. they become something of their own curator. of the collection really empower the audience? Certainly it can provide an information anchor from which to enjoy the collection. digital information as part of the gallery can be a useful addition in stimulating an audience. It would be impractical for a dynamic space. This simply isn’t feasible for everyone. and hopefully creating a more welcome space. This is one of the bigger battlegrounds of curatorial practice post-white cube -engagement with the viewer. However. Visitors might not have the necessary platform. the application of which rests with the curator. This is the inclusion of a versatile digital space. It is suited to a large. For these reasons. or game. It is a practice that places the onus of engagement on the audience. as a development it can go so far in taking you past the velvet rope.narrative through their visit. or be technologically minded. established. The hope that the audience might take an interest in the work critically. set up cheaply and quickly to engage their audience in such a way. One can take as little or as much from the exhibition as one wishes – visitors with only a couple of hours to spend might engage with the work on a more superficial level as opposed to delving into the history of a piece. An electronic tablet could provide an encyclopaedic guide or simple ‘What do you like to see?’ or ‘What are your hobbies?’ level of involvement with a collection. emphasising their humanity as opposed to the suspended time and space of the white cube. Anecdotes from the life of the artist and the piece of work can make us feel more attached to both. both visitors and institutions. How well does an electronic guide. somewhere that can continually provide stimulation.

An alternative is to remove the connotations of the velvet rope entirely. early next year.showing work through projection or similar means of display. but stimulated audience members will seek to inform themselves. it’s a practice from beyond the white cube. Alongside the formal exhibition. We have seen the impact of technology in negating the constraining atmosphere of white cube curatorial practice. These practices are aimed at making the white cube less foreboding. ‘Rich and Famous’. For example . Re-discovery : Changing Spaces .the Open Eye gallery Liverpool will be holding an exhibition. We’ve looked at two new practices that seek to enhance the connection between audience and art. deconstructing a piece. allowing interaction with the artworks even. allowing an unmediated reaction between art and audience. or indeed any type of visual engagement. but they can feel contrived. it would be the innovative use of such a space that could affect visitors. The connection by an informed audience is positive. or secondary. against the relationship between the individual and art. and could connected them with the institution or art in general. they will invite the public to submit photographs of themselves with celebrities – encouraging visitors to participate with art and feel more invested in the gallery. showing x-rays. A versatile display area would be ideal for this type of visitor interaction. It all allows a greater versatility and involvement from the visitor. Whilst statically displaying a framed Pre-Raphaelite piece would be nothing beyond the white cube.

Because the real power of an alternate space. that as you walked through a space not loaded with preconceptions at some point that tear of yellow would hit you. Seeing work outside a traditional gallery can be liberating. it would be you that startles those crows into a flight of raucous calls. To use O’Doherty’s example. or using a non-gallery space. the strange charm to be worked on the participant. That you might develop a relationship . The works may be hung and treated as though they were in a gallery. Displaying artwork outside a traditional gallery space is not radically new. and the best features of alternative space can fall away. or simply creating an uncertain space. The power of the white cube to bless its relics is mirrored by a scruffy warehouse demeaning it’s detritus. It is not a matter of geometry as much as of the careful consideration of space and placing – this consideration having perhaps one of the most dramatic alterations upon a viewer’s reception of a piece. Imagine the chills of being told that somewhere in a deserted warehouse. In 1988. has drastically challenged the white cube. However. When Mark Rothko left his precise instructions on the display of his work he recognised this effect on the impact of artxi. and the art must stand on its own merits unsanctioned by its surroundings.The practice of altering the gallery space in some way. This is the downfall of a number of graduate shows – organisers see the power an alternate space can have but may be unaware of how to harness it. and today you can visit any number of graduate shows held in alternative spaces. Damien Hirst partially orchestrated the ‘Freeze’ exhibition in a docklands building. an ashtray would no longer appear a holy relic. is in destabilising you and forcing you to discover art completely anew. using alternative space suffers if the ethos remains that of the white cube. But making an art space circular (for example) no more deconstructs the concept than painting the walls grey. The air of hush that pervades the white cube becomes less inhibiting and the participant may feel more comfortable with their thoughts on the work around them. Van Gogh’s ‘Wheat Field With Crows’ waited for you.

however. However. one of the rooms was equipped with a colourful dance floor and headphones with a funk soundtrack. reminding me of the pleasure of discovery and the exploratory. the Little Dancer turned her nose up at me. Mueck’s painfully gawky Ghost seemed uncomfortable as an unhappy teenager. one that is precipitated by allowing the relationship to occur naturally. and exhibited in a building that would have been a nightclub (had the financial crisis not halted its development). unmediated by a white gloved chaperone. This new practice of alternative exhibition spaces allows a genuine engagement with the viewer. this awkwardly forced connection.of just the two of you. The room displayed sculpture of the human body. It is. the connection pointing us at the versatile nature of the human body. Both groups are interested in utilising derelict spaces. counterproductive for an established gallery to hold its exhibitions outside a space custom built for purpose. not least financial would mitigate against such activity. and Reg Butler’s Girl on a Round Base made a terrifying contorted shape screaming at her lack of connection . new work was given room to reveal itself to each visitor. human nature of art. Through this practice art moves beyond the white cube and under your skin. meant that it seemed the work shrunk back against the walls. It remains one of my most enjoyable art experiences. From the basement to the strange mezzanine levels. Proclaiming to “counteract a conception that art galleries are formal spaces”xiii. as part of the ‘This is Sculpture’ exhibition. from Ron Mueck’s ‘Ghost’ to Degas’ ‘Little Dancer’. or in some cases disconnection. Tate Liverpool has attempted to alter white cube exhibition space to provide new context. Similarly. As part of the 2010 Liverpool Biennial. This acknowledged. the groups NoLongerEmpty and The Art Organisation collaborated in creating an exhibitionxii. they can’t remodel the gallery to create a space devoid of the gallery connotations each exhibition – considerations. refusing to reveal anything except the incongruity of their display.

To say for certain what factors will allow any particular individual to best engage with art is impossible. an antiseptic controlled environment can only elicit so much of a response. I would suggest that an environment in which both the audience and the art are unencumbered allows for a much deeper reaction. along with a fatigue of repetitive art experiences dulling them to the possibility of feeling. but problems hopefully point to solutions. Wayne Hemingway. the visceral response to a piece of art. and how not to do it.with the oblivious 70’s party goers. Collaboration and experimentation of this nature are indicative of the ethos of new curatorial practices. some of the larger institutions have phenomenal collections and change will undoubtedly be difficult. We can stand in an art gallery. or find for the first time. It was the result of curatorial collaboration with fashion designer.and be captivated by art. Conclusion : Innovation O’Doherty in the 1970’s and the ACE today share a goal in imagining a new approach to the exhibition of art. embracing digital technologies seeking to empower an audience or creating space in which art can be made new. remains a positive aim. Helping an audience re-discover. At the core of the solution to these issues is innovative curatorial practice. There may be problems along the way. Central to this perceived need is the audience’s resentment at sensing that they require permission to engage with the art. The Tate’s dance floor was not just a spatial experiment. I believe that the exhibition space has the largest effect on our reaction to art. It appeared to me simultaneously a loud indication of the established galleries yearn to distance itself from ‘formal space’. with white walls and blocked windows – the sense of limbo pervading . being essentially subjective. This is a fortunate thing. which seek to reinvigorate the art spaces. As O’Doherty argued. An .

The pros and cons tumble in quickly. stationary institution have. innovation and experimentation in connecting the art with an audience. They have few of the constraints a larger. with details as personal as possible about the work. it can help us find new and very exciting context in which to remould our relationships with art. Abigail Satinsky – co director of InCUBATE – announced that they had decided against maintaining a fixed exhibition location. how art can affect the audience is their prime concern – not a problem of how to make an audience comfortable in their institutionxiv. .electronic guide. as shown. In the ‘Beyond the White Cube’ discussions of 2010. wont remove the feeling of being chaperoned. Physical changes inside the white cube are in their infancy. and demonstrate how positively different our relationship with art can be through innovative thinking and practice. I would not wish to claim this was the ultimate progression in new curatorial practice – only show the impact achievable through it.from greater insight into the humanity of artists to breathtaking new experience. can offer the audience a pantheon of benefits . It isn’t always perfect – it can be lip service to egalitarianism or novel for the sake of it – but. and can feel equivocal to David Cameron claiming to enjoy hip hop. New curatorial practice. as witnessed by the Hemingway work. In my examples I have emphasised the power of curators re-imagining the space in which we engage with art. but InCUBATE have made themselves a more dynamic force.

php/site/events/beyond_the_white_cube_ii_international_network s/ viii Access to seventeen galleries.curatorsintl. including the MoMA in New York. The judges praised the app for. x It recently won a competition awarded by the American Association of Museums. one of the largest Damien Hirst collectors claimed. a gold in the games / augmented reality category.i B. xii http://www. It also more closely mirrors the wishes of Rothko. and then compare this against an incredibly difficult scale to measure – to what extent did the visitors feel this practice helped absolve them of white cube mentality. xiv That the Tate seeks to dispel a notion of being a ‘formal space’ suggests their belief that formal spaces are inhibitive to audience engagement. “galleries can be intimidating”. aspx xiii or in printed format upon request.available for free online (http://www. v ISBN: 9780728714939 – November 2010 .org. Is she honestly intimidated by galleries or is she speaking for her public? The interview with Anna Machkevitch can be found at http://magazine. ‘The Curator’s Egg’ Ridinghouse. Tate London and the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg can be found on www.artscouncil. The revised edition contains an introduction titled ‘Democracy of Spectacle: The museum revisited’.com/content/LiverpoolBiennial2008/LiverpoolBiennial2010/SQUAT/Overview. 2009 Edition. unconnected space of their hanging in Tate Liverpool of the 2010 exhibition. Here you can see Chris Ofili’s ‘No Woman. 1988 It was strange that in the online magazine ‘Motilo’. ix Really this notion will persist only so long as the audience attaches at least some importance to an ‘original’ or designated original work. surrounded presence of the Seagram murals Tate London room works much better for me than the disrupted. iv We would need to analyse the new curatorial practice’s use in securing funding by sifting through a large number of application forms citing said practice as evidence.O’Doherty.googleartproject. Once this decomposing connection is lost. The Lapis ‘Inside the White Cube: The Ideology of the Gallery Space’. The notion is given better exploration in Andre Malraux’s ‘Musee Imaginaire’. xi The claustrophobic. curatorial practice will change radically again – the object being only a token. No Cry’ in the dark – revealing the phosphorescent paint on the canvas normally obscured by and making the experience accessible for audiences of all ages” –providing a justification of expense and providing a catchy sound bite for the Tate’s argument against themselves as a ‘white cube’ iii K. ii . vi Page 15 of the document describes their investment in regularly funded institutions as £344 million in 2009/10 vii http://www. “creating interesting conversations between participants.

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