The Gallery Space is Now Redundant

Featured in You Are Here magazine

In this day and age, almost anything can be considered contemporary art. All of this creative activity which has been generated has to be placed, stored, sat, exhibited, somewhere.

The idea of site specificity and site specific art, as described by Miwon Kwon in her compelling text One Place After Another, she defines site specific art as being ‘initially based on a phenomenological or experimental understanding of the site’ as well as being defined as ‘an agglomeration of the actual physical attributes of a particular location, with architecture serving as a foil for the artwork in many instances’. The site of where an artwork is situated is crucial to the viewer’s perception and understanding of a work, which makes the work’s location even more important. We often do not consider the connotations associated with placing a piece in a specific location, not considering that it has the potential to drastically change the work’s fundamental understanding for the viewer. What does it mean if something is placed in an institution as prestigious and famous as the Victoria and Albert Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, even the Institute of Contemporary Art?

Unconsciously, we believe that the work holds high acclaim and esteem amongst the works of others. These institutions all have such grand names, the artist and he or she’s work has to live up to that expectation. Furthermore, an artist is usually invited by an institution to produce a work specifically composed within a framework which has been provided by an institution. This means that the work is immediately politicised by the institution, which affects artist’s ability to produce what they would actually like to produce. Art shouldn’t realistically have these boundaries and should be limitless.

The gallery space is also exclusive, both culturally and financially. The gallery space is expensive for the artist as well as the viewer. This considerably narrows the potential gallery audience and diversity of artworks that are thus exhibited in a ‘white cube’ space. Does this mean that the gallery space is the method of consuming art? Perhaps not.

Do we only consider something as art and if it has certain precise qualities or is presented in a particular way. Does the formal aspect of the work change if it is framed? Placed on a gallery wall? Is titled? Has a description? Is described in an exhibition book, catalogue or hand-out? Does putting an artwork on a wall mean that the work is being put on display to be analysed? The act of physically printing something could be considered a political act. How can we attempt to answer these questions?

Considering these questions that we need to ask of our own engagement with the gallery space, we asked individuals on the street their opinions on a variety of topics; whether they would consider something as art piece if it is not placed in a gallery or institution, whether the ‘white cube’ gallery space is the most productive way of looking or consuming artwork and finally, whether art be confined to the gallery space or should it be more publicly accessible. This could potentially be achieved through exhibiting art informally in the street, in pop up exhibition spaces which are not location specific and can travel the world, potentially even to third world countries and street art, art permanently available to view, built into the fabric of the built or rural environment.

Broadly speaking, the views of the ‘general public’ who were interviewed by You Are Here generally acknowledged that an art piece of whatever nature or medium can be considered art even if it is not situated in a gallery or institution. Lots of participants drawn upon street art as a means of disseminating art and how it is perhaps a means of initially engaging with the art world, then the next logical step being viewing art in a ‘white cube’ space, to hopefully re-engage and further understand what interested you in the street. There was also a broad consensus that the art gallery was not the most pleasurable way of consuming art, one participant even commenting that the gallery space is the least desirable location to experience art. Other contributors seemed to agree that art is accessible and still enjoyable via other means including the internet, acting as an effortless and frequent way to engage with art as it is widely available and far removed from the gallery or institution in some respects, aside from looking at works via an institution’s website. In addition, one contributor argued that each work is created for a specific audience so the space in which is it is exhibited is extremely important. Furthermore, the art space allows for you to see a different side to the art world which might not necessarily be pretty but is also historic to a certain degree. The contributor also said about how it is important for the consumer to understand where all of these influences for the artists have come from to fully understand the context of the work.

I’d like the art world to disassociate itself with the gallery space and reach a point where the culturally interested individual doesn’t need to go to a gallery to access art. If culturally interested individuals only appreciate artworks if they are sited within a gallery or institution, we need to change that assumption.

We need to move towards a more public, less institutionalised, widely accepted art world whereby the gallery is not the primary way to access works. In the increasingly interconnected, visually dominated world that we now live in, is the gallery space now redundant? Surely we can find a more effective way to showcase the ideas and talents of artists within the public realm.