Contemporary notions on the White Cube aren’t what they used to be. The eponymous gallery thrives on commercialism. Hype around the movement is manipulated to validate the removal of art from context, to condone unsubstantiated pricing.
But how did it start?
It has nearly always been characteristic of the great periods of art that the ideas of the ruling class or those of a rising revolutionary class have coincided with societal, urban and scientific developments and the general needs of the contemporary population.
Capitalism notably threw all products into an anonymous market. Objects found value in their potential to be bought or sold.
Where previously the artisan worked for a particular client, the commodity producer instead worked for an unknown buyer. Anonymity deconstructed the directness of human relationships, heavily contributing to alienation from social reality and from the self. Personal patronage was suspended by the free market and the laws of competition.
The problematic commercialization of the arts in the capitalist world were not fully manifested as long as the bourgeoisie was still a rising class and the artist who affirmed bourgeois ideas still represented a part of an active progressive force.
In the first wave, during the Renaissance, social relationships were still relatively transparent. The established and newly successful were prolific patrons for the arts, opening whole new worlds to the creative individual through the power they found in promoting visual campaign. Architect, painter, sculptor, writer, engineer, scientist and pioneer were often combined in one person. People who passionately affirmed the progress of the contemporary society in which they lived.
The second wave reached its climax in the French revolution. Here the artist, in a newfound role of subjectivity, expressed the ideas of the age. The artist championed the free man, man as united in liberty, equality and fraternity.
Romanticism pioneered the idea that everything was a fit subject for the arts and art. L’art pour l’art was a revolutionary movement related to it; born in the post revolutionary bourgeois world and, alongside realism, created with the aim to both explore and criticize society. Artists protested against utilitarianism, determined not to produce commodities in a world where everything becomes saleable.
The bourgeoisie was in the process of withdrawing artist commission and replacing with a steady social commission system. This production for an anonymous market facilitated the notion of art for arts sake.
For the first time the artist became free, free almost to the point of absurdity.
‘To every time its Art. To Art its Freedom.’ These are the words that proclaim the Secession Building in Vienna. Built by the architect Joseph Olbrich in 1898, it became one of the very first ‘White Cubes’. The idea was radical: strip the room of all distractions and let the art take center stage.
The secessionists were rejecting the establishment, looking to join various art forms to create a creative synergy. Influenced by Art Nouveau and Japanese art (proliferating in Europe in the late 19th cent) it looked to combine fine arts with architects and practitioners of other disciplines.
Gesamtkunstwerk, ‘a total piece of Art’, classified the curation of their exhibitions. In 1902, for example, the life and work of Beethoven was celebrated around a sculpture by Max Klinger and showed the arts as means to unify sculpture, painting, architecture and music.
So the current commercialisation of the white cube model has distorted its very purpose. Aiming to isolate art and the spectator within a timeless realm, it rather governs the viewer’s perception and response, creating a sense of exclusivity and detachment that favours uninformed buying based on trend and market manipulations rather than authenticity.
Brian O’Doherty’s Inside the White Cube, analyses the socioeconomic and aesthetic context through which we experience art. Examining the critical relationship between context and content, he exposes the myth of the supposed neutrality of the gallery or museum space.
MTArt similarly questions the contemporary interpretation of the White Cube. We believe in immersive experience, in the vision of our artists, artists who live in the contemporary and whose work thus reflects it.
Unless it aims to break away from its social function, art must show the world as changeable. And help to change it.
We see our artists as visionaries, thought leaders, innovators: the voices of our generation. The power of their practice lies in its context: a reflection on our world and a catalyst for positive change. DON’T INVEST IN ART INVEST IN ARTISTS