Exhibition Review of Little White Cubes II: Little Berlin at the DCCA

Little White Cubes II: An Exhibition Review by John Farnum

Maiza Hixson, the Gretchen Hupfel Curator at The Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts (DCCA), working with a grant from the Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, presents three, month-long, curatorial meditations entitled Little White Cubes (LWC) I, II, & III in the Constance S. & Robert J. Hennessy Project Space at the DCCA (December 7, 2013 – April 6, 2014.) In these LWC exhibitions, regional artists and curators are invited to address the concept of gallery as a work of art or creative medium. In LCWII, the second iteration in re-imagining the white cube as created/creative space, Philadelphia (Kensington) based artist collective, the Little Berlin artist collaboration (LB), interpreted the ‘undefined exhibition’ space in the Hennessy exhibition as space curated by an artist-as-curator collective.

Ma Ja KaLB appropriated the LCWII space to exhibit their do-it-yourself (DIY) style group exhibition, replacing the white cube with artifacts and content from prior LB exhibition events/locales and simultaneously filling the space with live action and audience engagement. LB transformed the exhibition space into a satellite art space of their primary gallery in Philadelphia replete with an assortment of couch, armchair, antique folding chairs arranged before a raised performance stage, banks of TV sets on which prior art performances ran in continuous loops, burning incense, mixed electronica and pop soundscapes, and a homemade magazine rack offering a portable sampling of LB’s extensive DIY ‘zines’ collection. These publications, collected by LB, present limited edition DIY tracts from national auteurs/authors published in guerilla-Xerox cut/paste formats that contain personal musings, journals, poetry, obsessions and other subversions.

LB’s re-interpretation of the white cube countermands the traditional role of autocratic museum curator with their democratic voting process for exhibition content. LB’s LCWII presented various ‘interrogations’ of the ubiquitous, staid, serene, and isolated white cube exhibition space via live performances, audience engagement, and streaming Internet video feed from an exhibition outside the DCCA, hosted at their sister LB space located in Kensington, Pa. Photographs arranged along the walls and documentary video loops repeated on a multi-screened bank of television recounted/recalled past LB events such as faux pro-wresting style events, community involvement through artistic intervention in an abandoned lot improvement effort, music performances, and the documented destruction of a piano by hammer-wielding performers. A standard artifact during LB exhibitions, a raised stage presented a locus within the space for various live engagements (i.e., musical performances, mixed DJ soundscapes, and stand-up artist improvisations.) Notables included an eerie and hypnotic performance by Marshall James Kavanaugh as his man/god/shaman/jazz musician-poet persona: MA JA KA. Following this, Rev. Eric Danger Clark’s performance, Bitter Tantrum, consumed the gallery’s floor space as the artist struggled to crawl through and drag a 12’ transparent balloon-filled tube of membranous plastic throughout the gallery space. While Clark struggled to emerge from his birth-canal/chrysalis, gathered members of LB, on cue, punctured balloons surrounding the artist’s struggle with upholstery pins.

Eric Danger Clark

With Little White Cubes II, Little Berlin artists successfully re-defined the ‘undefined exhibition space’ of the DCCA’s Hennessy’s as a collective, DIY exhibition space, energizing the exhibition space via artist/locale/visitor engagements, staged live performances, installed engagement-stations, and constructed virtual spaces.


White Cube Gallery

Registration link: https://www.signup82north.com/beventLive.aspx?EventID=NBI11780050

Saturday, February 15, 10 a.m.

Cultivate Understanding & Be Engaging (CUBE): Reaching Your Audience
Group Classroom Assignment: Design a socially engaged activity for children and adults that would enable them to interact with/in Little White Cubes III.
Drawing from essays such as Participatory Design and the Future of Museums by Nina Simon and Letting Go? Sharing Historical Authority in a User-Generated World edited by Bill Adair, Benjamin Filene, and Laura Koloski, we will discuss multiple perspectives of participation with exhibitions—from the vantage point of visitors, artists, curators, and museum staff members. Assignments: 

Little White Cubes Activity White Cube Exhibition Activity

What Makes A Successful Exhibition Activity SUCCESSFUL EXHIBITION CRITERIA


Saturday, February 8, 10 a.m.

inCUBEate: Conceptualize Your Own Gallery or Exhibition

Course Registration link: https://www.signup82north.com/beventLive.aspx?EventID=NBI11780050

Image:Logo LWC Multiple

Group Classroom Assignment: Drawing upon the text What Makes a Great Exhibition?, edited by Paula Marincola, and what we’ve learned in and outside of class thus far, we will conceptualize themes for a gallery or exhibition—and these ideas will later be exhibited as part of LWC III. Responses can be creative, straightforward, outrageous or subtle.

We will discuss criteria to analyze the success of an exhibition. Some questions Marincola’s book asks and which we will ask ourselves include: What are some examples of different types of exhibitions, galleries, and museums?; Can an exhibition be art?; How do you start conceiving of an exhibition’s theme and focus?; What is the relationship between the curator and the artist in producing an exhibition?; How should artists’ works shape and inform a curatorial premise?; Are the criteria by which we measure significance consistent and comparable across a typology of exhibitions?; What are the major critical and practical issues intrinsic to specific types of projects and how do they affect our conceptualization and direct our perception of their significance?; Granting the inherently ephemeral nature of exhibitions, what role must documentation play as an integral component in determining the reception and significance of the show?; What is the responsibility of the curator to frame and interpret the art works and underlying thematics of an exhibition for a spectrum of potential viewers of varying degrees of sophistication, interest, and tolerance?; Why shouldn’t even such prosaic components as wall labels or a gallery hand out be memorable as well as informative?

We will develop our criteria into an informational display in the LWC III exhibit opening in March and students may present the questions in the form of wall text, an online survey, a social media project, a gallery presentation, or even a performance.

LITTLE WHITE CUBES: A Course on the Ideology of the Gallery Space (Revisited)

This course is part of the DCCA’s new “University” and starts Saturday, FEB. 1, 2014, 10 am – 2 pm and continues through February, every Saturday (10 am – 2 pm) at the Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts

LWC III: DCCA University (Every Saturday in February, 10 am – 2 pm, at DCCA) 

Course Registration link: https://www.signup82north.com/beventLive.aspx?EventID=NBI11780050

LWC III contextualizes the gallery as a discursive space for learning the history and ideology of the white cube. Led by Gretchen Hupfel Curator of Contemporary Art Maiza Hixson (photographed above), this four-week practicum course on the intersection of curatorial and artistic practice will culminate in an exhibition in the Hennessy Project Space. This course will be a hands-on learning opportunity for students who wish to develop practical curatorial skills and a greater theoretical understanding of contemporary art. As part of the curriculum, students will create projects for the third iteration of the Little White Cubes exhibition (opening March 1-April 6). Transforming the gallery into a classroom, LWC III will feature DCCA University student projects, a visual history of the white cube, a classroom, chalkboard, resource library, and a smaller scale version of the Hennessy Project Space erected within the Hennessy Project Space for the presentation of ideas.

Saturday, February 1, 10 a.m.

The White Cube: An Ideological History of Gallery Spaces

Group Classroom Assignment: Visualizing a Timeline of the History of the White Cube

Drawing on Brian O’Doherty’s text Inside the White Cube: The Ideology of the Gallery Space and Paul O’Neill’s The Culture of Curating and the Curating of Cultures, and additional readings, we will chart the development of the modern gallery space from one of religious underpinnings to its further institutionalization in contemporary art.

5-Step Program to Promote Any Activity Whatsoever in Our City Streets

structure_boredomIn a recent 2012 article in RePairenting Magazine: A Journal For Fearful Postnatalists, author J.P. Morgue stated “Imperfect City is but a short drive from South Philly and Camden and midway between New York and Washington. Yet, Imperfect City is the worst place on planet earth for children.” Imperfect City managed to snag the number one spot on our list for lowest rate of spontaneous outdoor occurrences per 100,000 people. Something must be done.” In response to this outcry for change, the Mayors of Imperfect City are officially unveiling a five-step action plan to encourage sex, drugs, rebellion, or any activity whatsoever in our city streets.

Drawing upon the Platonic Cave theory (as outlined by Kavanaugh & Depenbrock of Philadelphia), we are hiring philosophers to keep our police officers behind bars while we can promote more interesting ideas besides freedom and democracy. When and if we televise this News, it will be broadcast through the eyes of Special Assistants from the Mayor’s office and look like a Straight-Faced Event.

Responding to the nonexistent crime rate, the City is inaugurating the first S.W.ART Team. Securing With ART will consist of a 1,000-member vigilante social squad placed on every major city block in downtown Imperfect City. Armed with organic food and foreign languages, these attractive enthusiasts will create a safe environment for daily exchange and nocturnal expression. To counteract the lack of anything happening here, each S.W.ART team member will be responsible for inspiring dull people through such proven creative intimidation techniques as: staring meaningfully into citizens’ eyes, trying to hold their hand while talking to them about civic progress, giving them a latch key to the city, cleaning the streets of democracy on all fours, and serving downtown residents with a personal body guard to protect them from suspected bureaucrats and suburbanites.

WE the Mayors will also incentivize such online social opportunities as meet-and-tweet-a-thons and human-to-human Faceoffs. Any urban revitalization effort such as this necessitates a New Consumer Goods and Lifestyle Branding Campaign in order to ensure virtually Imperfect Tourism.


Step Two?: Blandness Relocation Program. We must respond to the need for less mundanity per capita with an immediate ban on all banking. A new invisible currency is also being developed.


Step Three: Positive Appearances Act, including enforced Non-Work sessions followed by clapping.


Step Four: Give Happiness A Program (GHAP). GHAP will supply the S.W.ART squad with a six-month renewable license for dealing a new psychotropic substance known as Hell-O.

Step Five: Provide Tax Cuts & Loop-Holes to Lure Dull People Back Into Imperfect City. Following the decline in Imperfect citizens, we will now admit any humans, regardless of personality, back into the City.

In the following pie graph, you will see the Breakdown of Spontaneous Activity in Imperfect City:


As is evident in the pie graph, most spontaneous activity takes place in the street or on public transport and usually happens in the daytime. To counteract this, we are officially moving daytime to evenings and weekends.

Other Initiatives:

Unplanned behavior will now be rewarded with Friendliness and musical intervention. All guns and SUVs will immediately be melted into shovels that people can plant trees with once they come within a ten-mile radius of the City limits.

Imperfect City will erect a hotel to meet any taste and any budget. We strive to provide the most discerning visitors with passionate walking escorts. Our streets are as clean as our invisible currency can afford.

Imperfect City: I Don’t Get It. What’s It Mean? Where Have All the Artists Gone?

by Maiza Hixson

These are familiar questions I hear while wandering through the alabaster alleyways of Imperfect City at the Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts. Visitors and patrons alike are equally confounded by what seems to be mistaken for an “anti-Art/anti-Artist” exhibition. But let me respond to these complaints and queries by stating that there ARE in fact bona fide artists (with real art degrees!) exhibiting next to “non-artists” alike. And the non-artists are not just taking up space in galleries that should only be occupied by “Normal Artists.” These supposed non-artists are as important to the exhibition as any painter or sculptor featured in Imperfect City. While their works may not be on display in the form of traditional objets d’art, their ideas have infused the exhibition and created a much more complex framework for understanding what art can be: collectively produced; process rather than product driven; conversational; and not necessarily for sale. Of course, such ideas of art fly in the face of one conventional definition of NORMAL art. Indeed, the group of Artists and supposed Non Artists of Imperfect City could be said to be searching together rather than toiling alone for an Ideal World, through an exhibition rather than over a blank canvas.

First, if you have no time or desire to discuss, critique, or entertain definitions of Art and culture, then please…READ NO FURTHER. On the other hand, if you’re willing to examine the medium of exhibitions as a creative one, then you might be able to imagine how an exhibition like Imperfect City could be considered a totally different animal from your typical “hang-on-the-wall” art show. I would like to argue that the exhibition itself is the collective artwork and that the ideas generated are the basis for its relative value. From this standpoint, we can then evaluate how it might be considered a success or failure.

Let us address the way in which this exhibition originated: an open call for people to submit proposals for an ideal city within the DCCA’s walls. People met, discussed definitions of utopia, and how to proceed to make an exhibition. Several proposals emerged, including: a workspace where people design their own public park, a machine that reminds people of the increasingly lost art of cursive handwriting, a free athletic club where people can work out in the galleries, a micro farm that teaches the importance of growing one’s own food, a graffiti wall on which people can express themselves, bench seating that fosters conversation in the round, a reading room with radical texts, a memorial to the people who have died in violent crime and fatal accidents in Wilmington, DE, and an installation that visualizes the path of storm water through Wilmington.

Looking over the list of proposals, varying perceptions of utopia become clear. There is not one overarching principle guiding these proposals but several different ideals. There is the ethic of public participation in urban planning, the desire to retain seemingly arcane forms of knowledge and to honor the human hand as a source of creativity, the wish to encourage universal access to a healthy life, the principle of maintaining a relationship to nature, the motivation to provide people with a public outlet to reflect the world around them in pictures and words, a desire for access to knowledge, a communal space for mourning the dead, and finally, the basic need to understand where a precious resource comes from and flows through the city.

The subjective ethics presented by this creative list of projects can be seen to function in the context of the exhibition as potential theories of the perfect society. Only one proposal included any mention of a form of currency, yet it was never clearly defined. During the last Imperfect City Town Hall meeting, some of the City slickers discussed what form an Imperfect currency might take and how it could be exchanged. Perhaps because everything in Imperfect City is already free to the visitor, there is no need to invent money. However crassly cliché, another interpretation is that the exhibition is already filthy rich in imagination.

Hence the burden is on the visitor to decide if he or she feels rich in Imperfect City. With no banks or financial burden, people are free to decide if there is value in imagination and by extension the exhibition. The separation of art and artist becomes arbitrary in this context. If the exhibition is based upon a collective imagining of ideals, then everyone, including the visitor, is capable of invention—not simply Artists.

The currency of and within this utopian exhibition is an intangible thing—something spoken and unspoken, written on the walls or physically expressed within the gallery space. One could be considered rich in Imperfect City when one feels as if he or she has participated in it in a satisfying way. This monetary form might be based on what people feel they can contribute or give while engaging with other visitors of Imperfect City. There need not be a dollar amount associated with the currency but anyone entering the city could be prepared to offer it. Or, depending on a person’s mood, they could switch the value of the currency from what they want to give to what they could give up in order to participate. I am reminded of a question from an early Town Hall meeting: ‘Is a city the people or its walls?’ One might also ask, ‘Is Imperfect City a collective work of art or a solo exhibition?’

“Participation and Spectacle: Where Are We Now?”

In this lecture as part of Creative Time‘s Living as Form exhibition, Claire Bishop argues that social practice should not involve ethics, but rather foster (often uncomfortable) critical thought.

Is there a middle ground between the two?

How do you think participatory art should be judged?

While putting together the show, the DCCA curatorial team looked to, among others, writings by Claire Bishop and exhibitions by Creative Time for inspiration. As such, the following reading materials are included in the Radical Reading Room for reference purposes: Participation (edited by Claire Bishop), Artificial Hells by Claire Bishop, Living as Form and The Interventionists (both Creative Time exhibition catalogs). Stop by to tell us your thoughts about these projects!

Updated Project Checklist

As the soft opening of imPERFECT CITY approaches, the curatorial team has worked hard to assemble a listing of projects. The following is a checklist that all citizens will be given when they enter the galleries, along with a map to take notes on:

1. disOrientation Desk 

Visitors will be greeted by DCCA staff members who will welcome and provide them with information on all of the sites to visit and activities to engage in while touring imPERFECT City.

2. YOU ARE HERE: imPERFECT City Orientation Map 

This Orientation Map serves as a welcoming center and brainstorming area for visitors to imagine what imPERFECT City could look like in its visual layout.


Utopian scholars Annette Giesecke and Donald Dunham appropriate a museum wall for signage reading UTOPIA ABOVE THE LAW to define the utopian space’s boundary.

4.  Peoples Park Design Workspace 

Help design Peoples Park, an effort to create a new public space in downtown Wilmington from the everyday insights and ideas of Wilmington residents. Design workshops will take place Tuesdays and Saturdays in February in Bieber Ham.

5. Museum of the Hand 

This interactive installation invites people to sit at a desk, type their name on a computer keyboard and enjoy the spectacle of a computer-controlled writing machine as it translates the typed text in cursive.

6. Civic Seats 

Loosely based upon Shaker principles of utopian design, Civic Seats, allow visitors to engage in spontaneous conversation and debate for the duration of imPERFECT City.

7. DCCA Athletic Club 

Featuring a makeshift gym, the Club invites visitors to get fit in the galleries.

8. Radical Reading Room 

Featuring ambient lighting, comfortable seating and an experimental coffee table, the Radical Reading Room is strategically located next to the Athletic Club and is designed for mental exercise.

Micro farming and radical reading!

We have received two new exciting proposals!

The first, proposed by Maeve Coudrelle (in conjunction with Maiza Hixson and Chris Golas) is a Radical Reading Room, intended as a space of introspection, where citizens can rest and enjoy a respite from the outside while meditating on their intellectual experience in the exhibition. A lounge and dedicated reading space, the room uses warm lighting and comfortable seating to simulate a serene, convivial atmosphere. Based on both the idea that “reading is radical” and the wish for citizens to be exposed to the theoretical underpinnings of the exhibition, the room will contain a number of books culled from the imPERFECT CITY reading list.

The Radical Reading Room looks to a number of past projects, including Fritz Haeg’s Sundown Salon, which hosted numerous performances, readings and communal events in a geodesic dome in Los Angeles. Haeg likewise designed a circular, uniquely lit, warm space in order to foster a sense of togetherness and creative inspiration.


The second, proposed by Philadelphia-based artist Chris Golas, is the DCCA’s First Locally Sourced Micro Farm and Cyber Cafe, which seeks to establish a fully functioning Farm within the walls of the DCCA and coupling that with the latest in cyber technology.

Through simple and cost effective means of construction and management a new type of farming will be developed that exists between the size of the average backyard urban garden and the timeless tradition of indoor container gardening.  Using the latest in cyber social communication, the farm will attract new participants to come experience life on a true Micro Farm.

“Utopia Is No Place: The Art and Politics of Impossible Futures”

The political problem of today is not a lack of rigorous analysis, or a necessity for the revelation of the “truth,” but instead the need for a radical imagination: a way to imagine a world different from the world we have today.” – Stephen Duncombe

In a 2010 talk at the Walker Art Center, NYU professor Stephen Duncombe argued that art that reveals controversial truths can no longer be considered radical. It is the contemplation of utopian ideas that is activist— by imagining a more perfect world, people must acknowledge that certain elements of their present society are flawed.