In Brian O’Doherty’s Inside the White Cube (The Ideology of the Gallery Space), he examines the ways in which modern galleries and museum spaces were set up after the Second World War in Europe.
His book contains three essays the first is Notes on the Gallery Space. In this essay O’Doherty describes the gallery space as a clean laboratory-like place which has been steralized from all contamination of the outside world and has removed all cues that interfere with the fact that what is shown is “art”‘ (O’Doherty, 1976, p.14).
The windows are sealed off to remove any sense of time and O’Doherty says this a sign that the ‘outside world must not come in’ (O’Doherty, 1976, p.15). This may be because the piece of artwork needs to have this eternal feature just like the gallery which seemed to have the sanctity of a church where sacred items are being held. Therefore, all aspects of the outside world which can take away from its sacredness is not welcome. Only the minds and eyes are welcome to get close to the work but the physical bodies are not. Works are mounted on walls or pedestals covered by glass which keep curious hands away from the work so as to not taint it.
He then goes on to discuss the shift that photography has brought on and the ways in which framing has changed since then. He said that the ‘edge as a firm convention locking in the subject had become fragile’ (O’Doherty, 1976, p.20).Up until the 19th century subjects in painting were set in ways which strengthened the frame. They were framed within actual physical frames, such as Samuel F.B. Morse’s Gallery at the Louvre (1831-33). The paintings were framed so that each stood alone and had no relation to the ones around it. However, with the start of impressionism this becomes less and less apparent. The paintings produced had the ability to create horizons that pushed through the limits of the frame and seemed to go off it. This echoed into the way in which paintings were hung each on separate walls instead of stacked on top of one another. As photography came about it took this even further and was ‘devoted to the excision of a subject from its context’ (O’Doherty, 1976, p.19). With the ease in framing, editing and cropping that photography brought about, the act of composition and choosing what was to be inside or outside the frame became much easier. There was a change in the ideology of adding to the field by going laterally instead of deeper into the image. Photography also resulted in the removal of the heavy wooden frames and was replaced by boards. This meant that not only was the actual frame removed but also the ways in which the subjects were represented, and so the edge is no longer an absolute entity but became a place where things can continue instead of end.
Durign the 19th century the Academie des Beaux-Arts in Paris had a very specific view of how art is taught and the way it had to look. It held an annual exhibition called the Salon where hundreds of painters exhibited their works after being approved by the jury. Courbet an almost self-taught painter who’s focus was more on realism and portraying everyday people who had previously exhibited in the Salon had three of his monumental paintings (including Burial at Ornans and The Artist’s Studio) refused by the jury. He decided to take matters in his own hands an set up a pavillion outside the Exposition showing forty of the works he had done in the past 15 years. O’Doherty says that this was ‘the first time a modern artist had to construct the context of his work’ (O’Doherty, 1976, p.24). This is because for the first time an artist took his work outside the confinements of a gallery space and onto the streets. This completely changed the context of his work in relation to the sacred space of the gallery and into a space where the rest of the world can see it. His work was no longer set up in a special space, but instead somehwhere where only the ordinary exhisted and Courbet by doing so took his art and connected it with the outside world.
(A Burial at Ornans, Courbet, 1849)
(The Artist’s Studio; A real allegory summing up seven years of my artistic and moral life, Courbet, 1854-55)
O’Doherty in this essay shows the ways in which the modern gallery space has come to its current form and we are now able to see the ways in which this has changed since it was written. In most museums and galleries nowadays the works are given their own space and far from any unwanted interference from other works. The works are mounted on a clean, white, well lit walls freed from any distracting elements that might interrupt with the interpretation of the work. There is also the idea of the throne where the most important work is placed in seclusion of everything else not only in a separate wall but many times in separate spaces and rooms (such as the Mona Lisa in the Louvre).
The idea of space becomes an integral part in the process of creation in modern artists works and I have seen this first hand when curating our Going Public exhibition. I was given the responsibility of selecting the space where each of the students work was to be exhibited. Each student had a very specific way in which they wanted their work to be seen and it was my job to ensure that that was not lost yet at the same time put out a comprehensible exhibition where even though the works do not relate to each other an element of comprehension between them needed to exist.
Space now becomes the second most important aspect after the work itself where the white wall is no longer a neutral zone and the works claim territory in a “placeless modern gallery” (O’Doherty, 1976, p.27).