Friday, January 30, 2009

Color-phobic: why galleries insist on sticking with white

Perusing the galleries of Chelsea, Brooklyn, or hey, Jersey City, you’re hard-pressed to find a contemporary dealer who presents pieces on anything besides a white wall. It doesn’t matter how charged the subject matter, how revolutionary the technique, or how unflattering the “netural” background is to a work of art; the jury has spoken and color is banished! But why, at a time when even museums (normally the last to challenge the status quo!) are breaking out wallpaper and brightly colored paneling to best flatter their multi-million dollar collections (think Paris Decorative Arts Museum, Valencia Museum of Modern Art) are galleries insisting on preventing their spaces from interacting with the pieces they display?

I find it slightly puzzling that, at a time where many contemporary artists are finding it necessary to push the traditional boundaries of art and to cross over into new forms of production, galleries seem to have resisted the urge to revolutionize the way they present these works. Even though we persist in projecting upon “gallery white” the qualities of simplicity, neutrality, and disinterestedness, there is nothing inherently equalizing about displaying a group of diverse pieces on a background the color of a marshmallow. Sure, the contrast between a colorful work might be heightened by what could be seen as negative space, but can we honestly say that Cy Twombly’s blank canvas is enhanced by more white?

So why don’t we abandon this whole idea of white as the official trademark of gallery aloofness and do what museums are doing? Recognize the diversity of works and the need to display them with a sensitivity to the artist’s vision, rather than pasting them up and calling it a day. Environment matters: no one is immune to context, no matter how hard galleries may try to deny it.

1 comment:

Charles Kessler said...

In the good old East Village day the Gracie Mansion Gallery looked like anything but a white-wall gallery and it was an absolute delight. You could go in there and it would be like your grandma's living room or a bordello or real dark -- you never knew what to expect. I had some hope Williamsburg galleries would have some of that but they're much too "professional" for the most part. SouthFirst on North Sixth might be an exception. At least they have a sofa. There's nothing in Chelsea (it's so LA) although there was that goofy gallery, I think on 21st and 11th, that pretended to be a store, and there are the galleries on the other side of 11th on 26th or 27th.