Last week’s debate on whether viewing art was social experience put out an offshoot; from the people we see art with, into the spaces that we see art in. So this week, we’re dedicating the debate to whether the architecture of galleries influences the way we see the work in them.
Nicholas Serota, Director of Tate said recently of architect Max Gordon: ‘He was always intent that the space shouldn’t dominate the art.’
Gordon designed the first Saatchi Gallery in London in the 1980s, and went on to create galleries, studios and living spaces for artists and gallerists both in Europe and the US.
He said his focus on creating spaces ‘to allow pictures to breathe and be enjoyed without distraction’. These calm quit regular spaces have come to define how we think of contemporary art galleries. Historic collection galleries in turn have their own vocabulary, often neo-classical, rich-toned and imposing. But sometimes, the architecture of a gallery becomes its defining characteristic, the thing that draws you to visit – and that influences the sort of work you can see there.
The Guggenheim in New York attracted much criticism when it opened in 1959, with John Canaday in the New York Times calling it ‘a war between architecture and painting in which both come out badly maimed.’ The curved walls and sloping floors may make showing painting a feat of engineering, but perhaps it is the ideal place to see work by artists who create experiences . Also, an architectural space like no other can provide a completely original experience – looking out from the ramp across the rotunda you see works framed in a way unike anywhere else.
Tate Modern’s Unilever Series commissions an artist to create a work specifically for the Turbine Hall each year. The repurposed industrial space of the Turbine Hall has become an iconic destination in its own right. The space surely shapes the works in there as they are conceived and made specifically to be seen there. But perhaps those works are not always strictly site-specific, and they actually redefine the space each year, the architecture fading into a backdrop.
So, how much does architecture impact on your experience of art?
Is it possible for the spaces we see art in to be neutral?
Are some galleries so interesting architecturally, they dwarf the art?
Or are gallery spaces malleable – do they seem different when they show different work?
Tate Debate aims to open up new discussions around art, museum practice and wider culture. The topics debated are chosen and written by a range of people across the organisation.