Exhibit envisions art outside of ‘White Cube’

A new exhibit at the Art and Architecture Gallery in Rudolph Hall examines the architecture of museums and spaces of presentation that complement the art they house and that meld with the surrounding landscape.
A new exhibit at the Art and Architecture Gallery in Rudolph Hall examines the architecture of museums and spaces of presentation that complement the art they house and that meld with the surrounding landscape. Photo by Kathryn Crandall.

The days of bland gallery spaces may soon be over.

In an exhibit titled “White Cube, Green Maze: New Art Landscapes,” curator Raymund Ryan ARC ’87 presents six innovative architectural projects across the globe that challenge traditional notions of displaying art. The exhibition, which opened at the Art and Architecture Gallery in Rudolph Hall last Thursday, examines museums whose architectural designs not only complement the artwork they house but also meld with the surrounding outdoor landscape. With works ranging from a restored botanical garden in Mexico to an art site in the middle of the Seto Inland Sea, “White Cube, Green Maze” demonstrates the ability of architectural space to provide dynamic canvases for art both new and old.

“The line is blurred between the inside and the outside to form a synergistic whole,” said Brian Butterfield ARC ’11, director of exhibitions at the Yale School of Architecture.

School of Architecture Dean Robert A.M. Stern said the featured sites open a door to a new world of display methods. The exhibit’s concept is derived from an essay called “Inside the White Cube: The Ideology of the Gallery Space,” written by art critic Brian O’Doherty. O’Doherty objected to the trend of museums moving toward the model of the “reductionist white cube,” which he felt removed a necessary context from viewers’ experience of artwork, Stern said.

Butterfield said the exhibit is not making an argument about how art should be displayed, but rather attempting to blur the distinctions between works of art and the museum spaces that contain them. While none of the structures conform to a specific typology, Butterfield pointed out that they share a common goal of integrating into existing landscapes.

At a public discussion about the exhibit last Friday, architecture professor Kurt Forster lauded the building projects for reviving sites that would have otherwise been left abandoned. He cited Seattle’s Olympic Sculpture Park as an example, because it stands on the site of a former petroleum transfer facility.

“[The exhibit is] not maintaining the naïve illusion that nature is there to kiss you, but rather that it’s been ransacked and destroyed,” Forster said.

The Brazilian Instituto Inhotim was a neglected farmstead before landscape architect Roberto Marx transformed the fields into a sprawling, 5,000- acre art center. Meanwhile, the Grand Traiano Art Complex used features from the existing site in Grottaferrata, Italy to create an urban environment unifying new building materials with the original landscape.

At the panel discussion, Yale University Art Gallery Director Jock Reynolds questioned whether structures so closely aligned with the natural environment could be sustainable.

“Nature works on a different time scale,” Forster responded. “That makes upkeep less threatening, perhaps, because there isn’t the concern with keeping everything painstakingly maintained.”

Ryan, the curator, suggested that the structures’ impermanence adds to their appeal, creating a surreal art experience for the viewer.

Two visitors to the exhibit from New York said they appreciated the photos accompanying each display. Taken by renowned photographer Iwan Baan, the pictures give equal attention to the architectural fixtures and their surrounding landscape.

Bernadette Marian of Massachusetts said the variety of media made the exhibit engaging, praising its “combination of blueprints, photography and sculpture.”

“White Cube, Green Maze” was originally exhibited at the Carnegie Museum of Art from September 2012 to this January.

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