White cube galleries are beautiful. They bore me rigid
Source:theguardian Author:Jonathan Jones Date: 2015-10-14 Size:
Perfect white spaces are sepulchres for art. They have all the joy of a cenotaph, all the creativity of a chic shop……

‘Cathedral of the contemporary’ … Damien Hirst’s Newport Street Gallery in London.

Perfect white spaces are sepulchres for art. They have all the joy of a cenotaph, all the creativity of a chic shop.

This autumn has seen the opening of two spanking new white-walled art galleries in London – both created by the same architects, Caruso St John, who have sculpted Damien Hirst’s Newport Street Gallery out of a former scenery-painting workshop in south London and designed a lofty white gallery for Gagosian in Mayfair.

Both these new white spaces are beautiful. They both bore me rigid.

It is a cliche that modern art looks best in pristine, colourless environments. Once, there was real shock in walking into a gallery as white and pure as a Stanley Kubrick space station. But times change. The new becomes old. White space galleries are now conventional and uninspiring places to show art.

Hang an abstract painting, or place an installation, and it’s going to be superficially effective in a spacious Dulux-treated emporium. 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. They are in the business of reassuring art collectors – who will pour into London from all over the planet for Frieze art fair this week – that it really is worth forking out a million quid for that mound of plasticine shaped into a colossal turd.

The sanctifying, austere discipline of the white space gallery is today’s equivalent of a frame on an oil painting. Modern art rebelled against the frame and took sculpture off the plinth. Art rejected the traditional markers that separated it from life. It refused to be set apart by gilded decor. But as modern art has itself become the establishment, so it has created its own kind of respectability. The white-walled art gallery is the reverent cathedral of the contemporary.

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It is so much more dangerous and exciting when art is displayed in old-fashioned, ornate, historically laden environments. Ai Weiwei among the porcelain at Blenheim Palace, and now in the grand rooms of Burlington House; a James Turrell lightspace in a classical folly. These are the kinds of juxtapositions that truly make art come alive.

One of the most powerful works of modern art I have ever seen was Tramstop by Joseph Beuys, an eerie assemblage of tramlines with an anguished primitive head on a post originally created for the German pavilion at the Venice Biennale. I was lucky enough to see it installed in a grandiose classical hall at a Berlin museum. In this rich marbled setting, its emotional power was harrowing – it howled a lament for German history. So much pain, suffering and grief echoed off it through the grand Prussian gallery.

A few years later, I saw the same work in a white-walled room in Tate Modern. All the resonance, all the atmosphere of that haunted setting in Berlin was gone. It was just a cold sculpture; whiteness destroyed its meaning.

White spaces take art out of history and rob it of feeling. They protect bad art with a fake aura of modern chic and strip great art of resonance.

Paint it black, or at least red. Give art some architectural character to work against, some cobwebs and ghosts.

[Editor] 张艳

    Artintern