Entering the Cube

Bye bye, convention!
Bye bye, convention! // Stephanie Tomasson

The School of Architecture’s newest exhibit, “White Cube, Green Maze: New Art Landscapes,” rejects boring, conventional museum gallery spaces and displays. Through the use of relatively conventional museum mediums, the exhibit highlights other museums that have reinvented the traditional style. In the museums represented, a series of white-walled rooms with framed paintings and a few scattered sculptures is not going to cut it anymore.

“White Cube, Green Maze” showcases six sites that reject this hackneyed layout, redefining the museum to make the landscape and architecture of the location just as important as the art it holds. This exhibit features adapted and converted spaces ranging from a farmstead in Brazil, to a former NATO missile base in Germany, to the rolling hills of Italy, to an island archipelago in Japan, to a botanical garden in Mexico and, finally, to a defunct oil depot in Seattle. The diversity of the included sites shows the truly global scale of this trend towards invigorating the gallery-going experience through playing with perception and space. Whether an outdoor garden or a tank-like enclosure, these locations warp the way their visitors experience the cultural treasures and works of art they boast.

These spaces engage their visitors by forcing them to understand the artwork in a context beyond the one in which it was created: the environment it now inhabits. When entering the exhibit, you find yourself in a white cube, the inside wallpapered with a photograph of the Olympic Sculpture Garden in Seattle, transporting you into that new space. The rest of the exhibit aims at making its viewers feel as though they are interacting with each of the six locations represented. Photographs taken by Dutch photographer Iwan Baan, who visited all six sites, create a cohesive narrative throughout the entire exhibit. Video and sound elements allow attendees to watch as others actually meander through the innovative museum spaces, while the touch-screen information stands allow you to directly enter the space yourself virtually. Additionally, models and drawings recreate the physical locations.

Brian Butterfield, director of exhibitions at the School of Architecture, and Alison Walsh, exhibition coordinator, transform the school’s gallery into an interactive maze of displays. From this cube, there is no direct path through the gallery; instead, visitors meander in every which way, offering an experience much like that of the sites it showcases.

Ironically, however, though this exhibit rejects the basic and plain, the first element that greets us is just that: a nondescript white cube. In fact, the overwhelming majority of the exhibition space is white, most of the color coming from six hanging panels scattered throughout the room describing each featured site. The choice to present these innovative museum spaces in a traditional way makes one wonder if unconventional displays are only sometimes appropriate.

Overall, this show is not to be missed. Though it may not answer all the questions regarding gallery presentation, it certainly starts the conversation.

“White Cube, Green Maze: New Art Landscapes” is on display now through May 4, 2013, in Rudolph Hall.

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