The White
Jul 31 - Nov 01, 2020

Press Release

Curator Article

The WHITE: The 21st Century Futuristic Intermediate Art Space through Changes in Exhibition Space

Ayşe Erkmen, <On Water>, 2017, Skulptur Projekte 2017 | source:

A long line of people walking barefoot on water. What has happened?
This is a scene where audiences experience the work at the Munich Master Sculpture Project(Skulptur Projekte Mönster 2017) [ Münster Sculpture Project: The world's best public art event held every 10 years in Munich, a small city in Germany, is a sculpture project that is held throughout the city every 10 years starting since 1977. In 2017, it was held from June 10 to October 1.]) held every 10 years. The project began as part of an attempt to push the limits of the genre of sculpture and has continued to this day. In particular, this work "On water" done by a Turkish artist Aije Erkman, drew the audience’s attention by presenting them the feeling of walking on water by sinking containers on the abandoned canal. 

Ayşe Erkmen, <On Water>, 2017, Skulptur Projekte 2017 | source:

"On Water" is a type of work that extends the limited structure of traditional art galleries into extending everyday life to be an exhibition of art work. Just as there have been many changes in art as the change of time, the form and style of exhibition display is also changing. Today, it is easy to encounter exhibitions where artworks are blended into the surrounding environment to induce direct participation. So, what will the future exhibitions of the 21st century be like? And what will the future exhibition place be like? These questions cannot be answered easily. But first of all, wouldn't it be possible to answer questions about why there has been change in the exhibition space, what did it usually look like, what events affected the expansion of the exhibition space?

The Beginning of Exhibition Culture: The Rise of a Collection Space

Studiolo of Francesco I, 1570-1572, Palazzo Vecchio

It is said that the exhibition space, which we commonly call art galleries, started from the Renaissance period. Renaissance began in Italy around the 14th century to overcome the dark Middle Ages to open a new era of thought to resurrect the ancient times. As the concept of personal possession with aesthetic sense based on humanity formed, rich individuals of Europe created a place called Studiolo, similar to the gallery of today. Studiolo was an exclusive space for humanistic reasons where portraits of philosophers and relief works were displayed.

[ Renaissance: A cultural movement that emerged throughout Western Europe based on Italy in the 14th and 16th centuries, which meant regeneration or resurrection of studies or arts. In order to escape from the Middle Ages, which were considered as dark ages, a new culture was sought by reviving ancient Greek and Roman cultures.]

Other than the Studiolo, the Cabnet, the Wunderkrammer, and the Galleria can be some of the past representative spaces of the current gallery. These were formed in the 15th century at the end of Renaissance, along with the new trend of creating spaces for exotic objects from unknown continents through the discovery of the North American continent and by the opening of Eastern land trade routes. The cabinet, derived from the Latin word 'cavea' referred to a rectangular furniture made of partitions for display. This meaning gradually changed to refer to a small space where decorative objects were collected.

Wunderkrammer, which means "the room of the Bible," is a room where rare items were collected, and the collections were displayed according to their own rules, which are only known by the collector. It is said that the Galleria, now considered as the etymology of today’s gallery, was in the most similar shape to the exhibition space today. The gallery was mainly located next to the luxurious reception hall, to fulfill its purpose of exhibiting, and the collections were arranged in simple arrangements with no particular rules. The gallery has continued on to be a place for displaying its collections since the late 16th century together with the trend among aristocrats to create exhibition spaces in long halls.

Turning over the characteristics of exhibition space
In the 17th and 18th centuries, the Western world was dominated by scientific thinking that values rationality due to scientific revolutionand the Enlightenment that began in the 16th century, and thus the exhibition space was subject to change. In the mid-18th century, a re-examination of the educational value of art accompanied by the French Revolution of the 18th century and the Enlightenment lead Louvre Museum(Musée du Louvre) to be opened to the public in 1793.

[ Scientific Revolution: The study of the classification of organisms by natural relationships based mainly on formative standards, which emerged as part of biology aimed to establishing a system of classification of organisms, dealing with many kinds of animals and plants. Taxonomy has developed, arranged according to nature or evolutionary systems.]

Exhibition of the Louvre Museum in the past

(left) Hubert Robert, <Projet d’aménagement de la Grande Galerie du Louvre en, 1789
(right) Hubert Robert, Projet pour la Transformation de la Grande Galerie du Louvre, 1796

Early Louvre Museum had large pieces in the center surrounded by small pieces filling the entire wall. This type of display was recognized as a most scientific and systematic way to efficiently observe things. There were some cases, where the artwork will be filled from the ceiling to the bottom influenced by the Paris Salon style. Along with the scientific display methods, walls became an interest allowing green to be painted depending on the belief that blue had psychologically educational effects. Meanwhile, in Britain, gold frames were used to enhance the quality of the work, and instead of green walls, red walls were used to promote visual harmony with the golden color. 
The public was excited about the new world of art and the number of visitors to major museums including the Louvre, increased exponentially. Accordingly, the museum also increased the number of works in its collection. However, as the number of audiences and works increased, the gaps between the pieces became too close and moving along became very difficult. This has led to a perception that the filling wall for exhibition can disturb the appreciation of artwork.

Arrival of the White Cube, a Result of Modernism
In order to solve the problem of the existing exhibition style, European countries, including Britain, have tried an experimental method of arranging works at eye level. This new method naturally resulted in fewer exhibited paintings per wall, gradually leading to a discussion of the effect of the wall's color and structure. Modernism which pursues anachronistic and modernistic values was dominant in the 20th century when research and discussion arose on the subject of walls in exhibition spaces. As the autonomy and creativity of traditional works of art continued to emerge, ‘white’ became the most suitable color for modernism, as it was associated with the concepts of purity, absoluteness, religion and law.

A White-walled Exhibition Space

Photo by. Beaumont Newhall,
《installation view of the exhibition “Cubism and Abstract Art,” on view at The Museum of Modern Art》, 1936
| The Museum of Modern Art Archives, New York

The concept of an exhibition using white walls was formed by an art critic named Brian O. Doherty(1928~) who published “Inside the White Cube” in 1976. According to Doherty, white cubes refer to the sacredness of the church, the formality of the courts and the mystique of the laboratory. Alfred H. Barr Jr(1902-1981), the first curator of The Museum of Modern Art, which represents American contemporary art, gave the first example of the concept of a white cube in the 1936 exhibition “Cubism and Abstract Art”. Through time Doherty’s white cube became a symbolic term for the modern exhibition hall with white cubic walls.

The Future and the Expansion of Exhibition Space
Modernism, which pursued creativity and purity, gradually led to the deification of art and contemporary art discolored in a conservative manner. White Cube was also criticized as a sacred place, and was recognized as a rigid and secular place that adapts to the social system. As a result, the move to escape the rigidity of the white cube has accelerated with the arrival of Postmodernism, fighting back modern conservatism and black-and-white logic. Artists who felt limitations on communicating through artwork in a white cube started various attempts to break down the gap between art and reality.

[Postmodernism generally refers to the overall situation of society, culture and art in the West after Modernism. It implies fundamental skepticism on the rationalism of Modernism, and implies an ideological tendency to goes against Modernism by the concept of 'multiplicity' and 'resolution'.]

Pierre Huyghe, <After A Life Ahead>, Skulptur Projekte Münster 2017 |

The previously observed Munich Sculpture Project in Germany was part of an attempt to escape the limitations of the White Cube. The project, which started in 1977, became a great opportunity for citizens to reduce their reluctance to art, to become familiar with modern art. Even after 40 years, it is still an event of great interest to not only to art related workers around the world but also to the public. Thanks to the naturally penetrating works of art, Münster allows direct participating in artwork, therefore allowing the pleasurable experience of where one can guess what actually is art and what is not.

(up) Hans Ulrich Obrist, <The Kitchen Show>, 1991, (down) <House Art Fair 2017>exhibition view

Extraordinary attempts to turn unexpected spaces into exhibitions have been made. A Swiss curator Hans Ulrich Obsty(1968~) held an exhibition in his kitchen in 1991 raising up questions about formatted space and its usefulness. Visitors experienced an exhibition where food was introduced to stimulated the five senses by tasting or smelling food. Ulrich then worked on a project titled "Airline Project" in 1993 by distributing puzzle pieces made by artists to passengers on the aircraft to overcoming the closure of the white cube and to create new art that was completed by audience participation and experience. 

Meanwhile, ‘The Traveling Museum’ in New London, Minnesota, which started in 2014, is a museum which moves around. Artists move in and use it as a studio where they create artwork and when the work is completed, they move around the area for exhibitions.
Different context exists depending on the museum location and various interpretation can be presented to the viewers which makes it a main characteristic of this museum. 

So far, we have observed the changes in exhibition space and factors behind the change, which gave significant meaning in art history. The early exhibition space began as a method to show off and collect artwork, and then led to a closed form of white-cube, but finally changed into an experience-oriented display that interacted with the audience encouraging participation. The exhibition space, which has gone through endless changes within time, has now permeated our daily lives. We are living in an age in which everyday life and experience becomes art.

The WHITE: The 21st Century Futuristic Intermediate Art Space through Changes in Exhibition Space (白: 二十一世纪未来型媒介空间)

What would exhibition space look like in the future? John Dewey (1859-1952) a philosopher mentioned art as experience and experience as art. What we observe, feel and experience can be a stepping stone to developing the art of the current era and to creating a different exhibition place. Having consistent interest and discussion for future exhibition space would also be a task on our path. Why don’t we get up and look around, see what kind of interesting exhibitions are taking place around us? In this current era, where everyday life and experience becomes art, we seek this opportunity to look back on the meaning of exhibition space with representative artists of today, how they interpret the meaning of white and how the changing exhibition space previously mentioned will change in the future to become a living – futuristic intermediate art space, creating a place of harmony amongst ordinary individuals, and not for someone special. Rather than the traditional way of exhibition described by curators, here “The WHITE: The 21st Century Futuristic Intermediate Art Space through Changes in Exhibition Space” is where artists and visitors directly interact with each other!

 Lee Janguk(李章旭)


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