Strange Harvest
Architecture / Design / Art
StrangeHarvest is written and collated by Sam Jacob.


White Cubed Blues



'Can Buildings Curate'
AA, Bedford Square, London. April/May 2005
Storefront, NY Sept 2005

Some things are so deeply culturally engrained that you can't see them - even if you are looking right at them. Architecture possesses an almost magical ability to be gigantic yet almost invisible. It can be imbued with tremendous political ideology, yet seem as innocent as the breeze.

From cave to skyscraper, architecture has an incredible ability to make the most bizarre of situations seem completely natural and normal. Staring at the skyline of a city, you can't help but wonder, in voice that sounds a little bit like David Byrne, 'How did we get here? And where exactly is here?'

The contemporary gallery is one of those places. A kind of bright, white blind spot at the heart of the culture industry. It's hard to imagine the world without those cool, smooth, almost empty, white gallery interiors. But it's important to remember that galleries haven't always been like that. It had to be invented.

The white cube as gallery space suggests both simplicity and innocence. But of course, this is really a kind of cloaking device disguising a tremendous cultural mechanism that confers values and meanings upon things within its gravity. If you rest your head against the cool smooth wall of a gallery, you can hear the cogs grinding.

The white cube is the result of a pact between high art and modernist architecture. A twentieth century invention, for twentieth century art. And its ingredients were the essential elements of modernist architecture: Whiteness and an abstract, primary solids. Art offered architecture the chance to indulge its tendency toward abstraction: The gallery program meant empty space, free of all that clutter that you need in buildings that people live or work in (its ironic that the functionalist credo of modernism excelled at the almost function-less program of gallery space).

Architectural abstraction meant buildings that resisted having direct meaning. This offered art the possibility of creating distance between itself and the real world.

The reality of buildings though, is that as soon as they leave the drawing board and become part of the world, they attract meaning like a magnet in a scrap yard.

Whiteness in architecture has a particular trajectory. It represented an absence of ornamentation. All that 19th century neo-classical decoration was seen as decadent, symbolic of the old order.

Mick Jagger sang 'No colors anymore I want them to turn black', unable to bear, in his heartbroken depression, the visual manifestation of happiness. Modernist architects felt the need to 'paint it white' because of architectures own painful recent history: the slums of the newly industrialised cities. Most of all, it meant the whitewashing of a history that had fist created and then failed the urban working class: a new beginning. White was the visual field of the tabula rasa.

Whiteness has a whole host of associations: of purity, of bridal virginity, of innocence. It also has the promise of as brand new stationary where all is yet to come.

The shape of the cube represents a similar desire to simplify, clarify and rationalise. Le Corbusier sat amongst the stones to the Acropolis sketching cubes, spheres and cones. It tends towards an idea rather than a thing. Things are awkward and messy. Things get dirty and damaged. Ideas stay perfect forever.

In the 19th century, the gallery and the artists studio were entirely different kinds of place. In the 20th century, these spaces converged.

The 19th gallery typology was descended from (or sometimes was converted from) a palace. Look at 19th century Gallery design, such as London's National Gallery or Tate Britain, and what you really see are buildings that should be filled with royal courts. Those endless sequences of rooms seem incomplete without layabout interbred members of the European aristocracy lounging on furniture. And of course, that is where art had previously resided: in the hallways of royalty. Galleries weren't white, they were other colours: you can buy Picture Gallery Red - from heritage paint company Farrow and Ball (which is based on the Picture Gallery at Attingham Park) or perhaps you might prefer Picture-Gallery Red (RL Number TH57) from the Ralph Lauren 'Thoroughbred' paint range.

The idea, or image of the gallery tells us about 19th century arts purpose. The 20th century gallery space had an entirely different approach. It began to appropriate the appearance of the artists studio, of un-ornamented industrial spaces. Partly as a democratic, partly asserting the growing importance of the artist as a cultural figure, as well as increasing arts immediacy. Of course, these new galleries weren't really industrial buildings. They just looked like them. Actually, they became increasingly refined: the planar abstract quality of the wall becoming more planar and more abstract by the use of the shadow gap - which articulates and separates the wall from the floor and ceiling. There is an unacknowledged perversity in the industrial aesthetic built with the craftsmanship of a palace.

The aesthetic of the gallery has spilled over into other areas. It's often hard to distinguish art space and boutique, between high-end dentist and restaurant. The gallery aesthetic which isolates objects, confers a non-specific seriousness, is everywhere. It's a tasteful, thoughtful, quiet way of presenting expensive products. It helps you forget that the objects are only products and suggests that they have something more about them.

Convergence between artists space and gallery space is illustrated by the Tate Modern. The appropriation of an old powerstation monumentalises the London art scene that preceded it. At Tate Modern, Herzog and de Muron have carefully preserved the industrial character, and have made almost unnoticeable interventions. They have made a kind of architecture that recalls semi-squatted unused old industrial spaces.

The show 'Can Buildings Curate' uses a series of projects by both artists and architects that explore attitudes towards the white cube. The last decade has seen bigger and bolder art gallery construction, a tendency beautifully illustrated by the inclusion of Zaha Hadids design for the Taiwanese Guggenheim (currently on ice, awaiting funding). It both outperforms Gehrys Bilbao in shape shifting but also through moving bits, sliding sections and elevating bits of building becomes a kind of hydraulic, anamatronic fair ground ride. The exhibition shows that there are other approaches that engage with the concept of the gallery space in an intelligent manner. Historically, it begins with exhibition designs: Duchamps '1200 Bags of Coal' (1938) and 'Mile of String' (1942); Friedrich Kieslers International Exhibition of New Theatre Technique (1938). These projects show the development of an attitude towards curation and display - making the act of looking into something active, something that needs to be negotiated. These pre-white cube projects are echoed in Goshka Macugas 'Cave' (1999) and Iceberg (2001). These create interiors suggesting natural phenomenons out of crumpled paper that are then hung with work by other artists. By making narrative places rather than white-cubed nowheres they challenge the orthodoxy of the neutral background. Conversely, the idea of the gallery as a terrible cultural prison is satirised by Davide Bertocchis 'Limo' (2003). A beautifully curved stretch limo spirals down the ramp of the Frank Lloyd Wrights Guggenheim. Round and round as it descends on the only journey it could possibly make. It reveals how deformed art has to be to make sense within the gallery. It suggests that the gallery is destined to produce artwork that will be ideally suited solely to its own unique qualities - rather than with relevance to the rest of the world.

Some of the architectural proposals included show demonstrate subtle and intelligent takes on the culture of the gallery building. The invisible mechanism of the gallery is explored in the Lucy Mackintosh Gallery Project (2005) by Decostered & Rahm. The design uses a network of hidden pipes to create different temperature zones within the interior volume. The infrastructure of heating is used instead of partitions to create zones within the space. Likewise, Sejima/Nishizawas 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art makes a gallery space that plays with a lightness of architectural touch. Here, the gallery seems not quite there, a loose collection of almost-rooms and not-quite-corridors. Its architecture that's slight, suggestive and incredibly precise. It's almost as is the building is slipping away. It develops the abstraction and nothingness of the white wall into something spatial.

These kinds of projects play with the white cube as an architectural concept, extending and adjusting cultural conventions. It's an approach to the gallery echoes by OMA/AMOs concept work for St Petersburgs Hermitage. Tasked with looking into the future of the gallery, OMAs approach began with a stock taking of the existing spaces of the museum. Their approach suggested that the gallery itself was something that could be curated, and through the curation of the architecture, new meanings could be created.

These three projects show alternatives to the big gallery projects of the last ten years, epitomised by the Guggenheim Bilbao. Bilbao marks a particular moment in the history of the gallery. A moment where the gallery ballooned to gargantuan proportions, dwarfing and eclipsing its contents, and perhaps even the city that hosts it. For a moment it looked set to mushroom across the world - a franchised solution for cultural regeneneration.

But it seems to have proved a tipping point: rather than the beginning of the 21st century gallery, it's more likely to be a final flourish of the 20th century gallery. The relationship between business and art reached a kind of ultimate end game. Its business model required the host city to pay to use the Guggenheim brand with the museums then filled by a rotation of the foundation's huge art holdings. If this model hasn't exactly failed, it's certainly stalled.

Bilbao is an extraordinary display of architectural pyrotechnics. Many of the projects featured in 'Can Buildings Curate' suggest less explosive kinds of architecture. But kinds which engage with the cultural idea of the contemporary gallery space. Meaning rather than space becomes the raw material of architecture.

If anything, though, there remains a tasteful, cerebral atmosphere pervading these projects. The reality of modern galleries is an increasingly strange agglomeration of culture and entertainment, of culture and commerce, of restaurant, nightclub, and tourist destination. Architects - and perhaps even more, their high culture clients - perhaps need to accept and embrace that vulgar complexity of art spaces. Its high time they gave up their innocence and started to have some serious adult fun.



Posted by anothersam at June 12, 2005 12:30 PM.



Contents:

More Scenes In Cartoon Deserta

Eiffel X-Rays

Beyond: Values and Symptoms

Sub Plan

Shenzhen: Window of the World

White Power

Generic Powerpoint Template: Delivering Bad News

Duplicate Array

The Best New Building In London

Book Review: The Infrastructural City

A Balloon in the Pantheon

Letters From The Pantheon

Henry Moore in Motion

On My Steel Horse I Ride

The Michael Jackson Monument Design Competition

Now Showing: John Baldessari Sings Sol LeWitt

Obscure Design Typologies: Life Guard Chairs

Osama bin Laden Cigarette Lighter: Novelty Products as Congealed Culture

Absurd Car Crashes: A Eulogy for J.G. Ballard

Candy Pistol

Now Showing: Dan Grahams 'Rock My Religion'

This Concrete 'O': On Serotonin, the M25, and the Motorik Picturesque

Church of the Literal Narrative

Philadelphias Floating Architecture

Now Viewing: Married To The Eiffel Tower

Le Corbusiers Image Hoard: Poeme Electronique

Giant American Signs: Original Learning from Las Vegas Footage

Giant Soviet Signs Cut Into Forests

Bricks Melted Into Icicles: Napalm Decorative

C-Labs 'Unfriendly Skies' & 'Bootleg' Volume

2 The Lighthouse: Self Storage & Architectural Hallucinations

Ceci N'Est Pas Une Pipe: Infrastructure as Architectural Subconcious.

Viva Sectional Cinematography!

Now Showing: The Installation of an Irreversible Axis on a Dynamic Timeline

Plug: Junk Jet

Sim Seasons Greetings! The Rise of Neo-Winter

Geography in Bad, Festive Drag.

The Ruins of the Future

High Tech As Steampunk ...

On The Retro Infrastructural

Simulations of Industry: High Tech Architecture and Thatcherism

David Greene: The Big Nothing

From The Factory to the Allotment: Tony Wilson, Urbanist

Koolhaas HouseLife / Gan Eden: The Revenge of Architectural Media

Ruburb-ric: The Ecologies of the Farnsworth House

The Architecture of Divorce

Flagrant Delit: The Movie

Landscape as Clothing

Telly Savalas Looks At Birmingham Redux

Acts of Un-Building: Timelapse Demolitions

Yard Filth: Next Years Hot Look

Stonehenge: A Black Hole At The Heart Of British Architecture

The Popemobile: Mechanised Robes & Motorised Architecture

Tarmac Adam, Tarmac Eden

The Secret Language of Surface

Some Housekeeping

Information Fields: Agriculture as Media

My Bloody Valentine: Sound as Substance

A Cubist Copse: Gehrys Serpentine Pavilion

Olympic Model Protest

Spouting Off: Some Thoughts On The Fountainhead

Form Follows Dysfunction: Bad Construction & The Morality of Detail

Floating Homes

Vintage Tradeshow Surrealism: International Grune Woche

Moving Houses: Buildings In Motion

Desktop Study: The Strange World of Sports Studio Design

Married to the Eiffel Tower: More Objectum Sexuals

60 Years of The Crazy Horse Memorial

Married to the Berlin Wall: "The Best and Sexiest Wall Ever Existed!"

Inflatable Icebergs: Sublimated Guilt Has Never Been So Fun

The Cinderella Effect: Phantom Architectures of Illumination

Two Deaths and a Retirement: The Strange Shape of British Architecture

If London Were Like New York: Antique Schizo-Manhattanism

If London Were Like Venice: Antique Geo-Poetic Speculations and Hydro-Fantasy

41 Hours in an Elevator: The Movie

NASA: Mapping the Moon with Sport

Lemon Squeezy: Design Tendencies after the Juicy Salif

Stadium Seat Mosaics

The Nihilistic Beauty of Weapons Arranged in Patterns

Light Vessel Automata

Dogs: Britains Greatest Design Obsession

Madison Avenue Modern

Detroit Sucks: The Motor Shows Last Gasp

Mies' Grave: Cut Out Model

All You Can Eat

Valentine Machine

The Tools of Re-Geography

Floating in a New Town Sky

Authentic Replicas: Football and the Franchising of Place

Folk Football: Landscape, Space and Abstraction

Haystack House

A Wishing Well with a Fat Up Pipe

The Camoufluers and the Day-Glo Battleship

Pseudoccino: Instant Coffee Foam

Yesterdays Technology, Today

Blown Up: More Inflatable Military Stuff

On Christmas Trees, Folk Forests and Staples Office Supplies

Hampton Courts Shrouded Sculptures

Named Fabric: 20 Sponsored Pieces of Architecture at the New Museum

Form Follows Felony: The Secret Home of the Un-Dead Canoeist.

Architectural Magazines: Paranoid Beliefs, Public Autotheraphy - More on Clip/Stamp/Fold

Little Magazines Seen Today

James Bond Lives Next Door: Suburban Imagery as Industry

The Ghost of Christmas Futurism

Petrified War Machine

Military Deceptions

Chapters for an Imaginary Book About Architecture

Shrouded Plinth - Urban Striptease

In the Night Garden - Surreal Landscape of Nostalgia

Kim Jong II, The Great Architect

Pill Box Picturesque

Un Clear Monument

Place Faking: Instant Heritage for the Thames Gateway

The Marc Bolan Memorial Crash Barrier.

Warped Domesticity

The Nuclear Heritage Coast

Enjoy The Silence: Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones

The Story of O (2)

Telly Savalas Looks At Birmingham

X100: A Design Exercise

How to Plan A New Town

Carpet Bomber

In Search of Britains Vehicular History

Scenes in Cartoon Deserta

Scary Suburbanism: Why Horror is at Home in the Suburbs

Re-Make Re-Model

I Like Your Manifesto, Lets Put it to the Test-o

How to Become a Famous Architect

Northampton - Sci-fi Pop Planning Promotion

Advertising Central Milton Keynes

Baltic Exchanged

Festival of Nostalgia

The Clapham Trainwash

Airports as Music

Test Card Dummies

The Velvet Underground at the Glass House

Duplikate: Kate Moss on the Production Line of Individuality

The Museum that Ate Itself

Hollow Inside: Starbucks Foam and the Rise of Ambiguous Materials

Revisions to the Architecture of Hell

Crufts: Dogs, Design and Aesthetic Genetics

Eos Airlines: Executive Bubbles over the Atlantic

London's Ugliest Buildings

1.51 Miles Of String

Google Earths Vertiginous Mapping

Church of the Ascension and Descension

Reyner Banham Loves Los Angeles

Replica Bombs

The Invisible Bungalow

House / Boat

Reading Lines: Skateboarding and Public Space

Mountain Sculpting

Sint Lucas in BD

Bat House Competition

Old Walton Bridge

Kiruna: The Town That Moved

Spray On Magnetic Defense

Chris Cornish: Prototyping History

The Jubilee Gestalt Vase

The Most Visited Location in the UK

Anything to Feel Weightless Again: The Cargo Lifter and the Tropical Island Resort

'Its beauty will know no season'

2000 Years of Non Stop Nostalgia. Or How Half Timbering Made Me Whole Again.

Inside-out Aldwych

Backpeddling into the Future: The Historical-Futurism of British Architecture

Miss Selfridges' Feeling for Fake Snow. The Oxford St. Lights and Why We Need Artificial Winter

Nelsons Cavern

Foam Gargoyle

New Tory Logo: A Hazy Shade of Politics

Jeff Koons, Rem Koolhaas, Hans Ulrich Obrist at the Serpentine

Souvenir Empire

Celebrity Scents: The Bittersweet Smell of Success

Imperfect Pitch - Football, Space and Landscape

Product Placement: Making the Impossible Possible

Suburban Growth: Matthew Moores Field of Dreams

Perfect Sound Forever: The Secret Function of High End Stereos

Picture of the Week 1

A Little Light Product Placement

Some Advice To A Young Designer

London and on and on

In the Gallery of Ice Creams

Useless Proclamations for a Beautiful City

Mini Mies Chair

Topsy Turvy VSBA: Inverted Heros of an Upside Down Avant Guard

Harvest III: Buried Things

The Harvest II

The Harvest I

Estuary Urbanism

The Royal Families Trees

Everything Flows: ideological cartography

How Geostationary Was My Valley?

The Psychotic Utopia of the Suburbs and the Suburbanisation of War.

LegoLand London Cluster

In a Lonely Place - Under Construction

Design Will Eat Itself

Mach 3 Nitro Gel - Design that's foaming at the mouth.

Marchitecture. Architectural things to do in London this March

Metallic Jet Powered Cloud

"When we got married I had no idea he would do something like this, he just said he was going to do some decorating."

The Electric Cenotaph

Russian Rok

Commitment ...

Dinner in the Iguanadon

Trace

What happens when you cross a pen with a car?

Leg Table Leg

Florentine Building Sites

Good Morning Britain

Football Pitch: Best of British

The Sad Photographer

The First Cut is the Cheapest - Blenheim Palace: pop architecture that goes for the jugular

Book Now For Christmas

Requiem for a Toilet Seat

Architecture that Destroys

TomTom Mobile 5 / GO 700

Winning Design

Another Croydon

Holiday Snap II : Giant Glowing French Balls

Holiday Snap: Canadian War Memorial, Vimy, France

Pecha Kucha London

Anatomy of an Architectural News Story

Big Bens

First Cut - Case Closed

The Texas Tower

Its All About the Big Benjamins

G8 Security Tower

White Cubed Blues

Poundbury, unexpectedly, in the rain

The Exploding Concrete Inevitable. Lou Reed and the Casa da Musica

Swingball

Untitled (Plastic Sack and Timber)

Berlin 1945 - The Obscene Picturesque

Pizza Planet

Goal Sculptures

Interview: Jeremy Deller & Alan Kane

Previewing Cedric Price

The Mardas Touch

Building a Lionel Richie Head

Ornament is Grime 2

An Incredible Smell of Roasting Coffee

Flatpack Frenzy at New IKEA

Langlands & Bell - The House of Osama Bin Laden

Labour is kind of working

Happy Death Men

Build to Let

Architectural Criticism gets Sharp

Niagara Falls

Ornament is Grime

FA(ke) Cup

Q&A: Wouter Vanstiphout

X-treme urinals

Unigate Cowscape

Spray-on Snow

From the Baffler ...

One in a Taxi

The Queen Machine

The Knork

Venturi, Scott Brown and my love that dare not speak its name.

Polictical Placards

The Ketchup Conumdrum

Douglas Coupland: Design and Fiction

It's a Small World

Images de Parfums

Soft Carcass

Christopher Dresser at the V&A

Blow up Pub

Municipal Mummification

The Matt and Ron Show

Semi - detached

Half Timbered Van

Feltham Future

Favorite Things

Fugitives and Refugees' - Chuck Palahniuk

The Pop Vernacular

Design by Chefs

Just What is it That Makes Yesterdays Homes So Different, So Appealing?

Archigrams Pastoral Futurism

Sorry Mies

The Flaming Lips - Live.

Everything Counts - The Sound of Geography Collapsing.

Carlton Terrace Extension

Other:

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