Art Term

White cube

Refers to a certain gallery aesthetic characterised by its square or oblong shape, white walls and a light source usually from the ceiling

Andrew Grassie
The Hanging of New Hang (2005)

The aesthetic was introduced in the early twentieth century in response to the increasing abstraction of modern art. With an emphasis on colour and light, artists from groups like De Stijl and the Bauhaus preferred to exhibit their works against white walls in order to minimise distraction. The white walls were also thought to act as a frame, rather like the borders of a photograph. A parallel evolution in architecture and design provided the right environment for the art.

In 1976 Brian O’Doherty wrote a series of essays for Artforum magazine, later turned into a book called Inside the White Cube, in which he confronted the modernist obsession with the white cube arguing that every object became almost sacred inside it, making the reading of art problematic.

Explore this term

  • Nothing works

    Anna Dezeuze

    Marcel Duchamp’s phial of Paris air, Yves Klein’s The Void exhibition, Martin Creed’s Work No.227: The lights going on and off, Gabriel Orozco’s Empty Shoe Box – for decades, artists have pushed the boundaries of how close to nothing an artwork or exhibition can be. How far can they go?

  • The white cube and beyond

    Niklas Maak , Charlotte Klonk and Thomas Demand

    In an age when installations, art environments, ‘scatter art’ and large-scale mixed media works are the norm, the traditional confines of the museum and art gallery spaces are continually under scrutiny. As a natural consequence, the methods of displaying art have transformed, but as three specialists in their field acknowledge here, historically there was more to a museum display than crowded pictures and pot plants, and this history is worth bearing in mind today. 

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  • The year of the locked room

    Hester Westley

    Hester Westley delves into the archives of St Martin’s School of Art, and finds a project almost forgotten, a teaching experiment in 1969 where twelve individuals, among them Richard Deacon, were locked in an empty white room, observed and in silence, designed to ‘liberate’ the participants into a fresh understanding. 37 years on, the participants still deliberate over the value of their unconventional student years.