LITTLE WHITE CUBES: I, II, III-December 7, 2013 – April 6, 2014, Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts, curated by Maiza Hixson, funded by the Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts
LITTLE WHITE CUBES presents the concept of the gallery as a work of art or creative medium. Many artists have subverted the presumed neutrality of the “white cube” exhibition space by parodying or critiquing the authority behind a museum’s institutional framework. In 1970, Tom Marioni invented the Museum of Conceptual Art in San Francisco and began his social sculpture, Drinking Beer with Friends is the Highest Form of Art. Erickson and Ziegler’s MoMA Whites (1990) featured a gallery painted with different colors of white preferred by various curators of the Museum of Modern Art. Adopting paraprofessional identities and working in the vein of institutional critique, in the 1990s artists such as Andrea Frasier and Fred Wilson respectively assumed the identities of docent and curator, deconstructing museological education and displays and calling the traditional role of the artist into question. Other contemporary artists of the 2000s such as the Yes Men duo appropriate corporate identity in order to camouflage themselves as business CEOs in various settings. In contemporary, socially engaged artistic practice, many artists increasingly eschew the title of Artist altogether, announcing themselves as politicians, farmers, urban planners, for example, who treat the gallery as civic center, community garden, and public design studio.
LWC I: Wilmington Center for the Study of Local Landscape
The first artist in this series of exhibitions, Matthew Jensen (NYC) turns the white cube into an ad hoc parks commission, which he calls The Wilmington Center for the Study of Local Landscape (WCSLL). As an artist-in-residence at the DCCA for 12 weeks, Jensen organized creative activities for a dedicated group of local citizens who were charged with the task of studying the Wilmington park system. Jensen crafted ways for the participants to investigate landscapes through individual artistic endeavors and conceptual projects centered on a park of their choice. Over 1000 photographs from the team of 12 are contained in archival boxes and displayed on a conference table in the gallery. Each box represents a single park and the contents encapsulate the individual’s memories, texture studies, letters, and a personal list of suggestions for park improvements. DCCA visitors are invited to look through each box and reflect on these unique perspectives of local landscapes. At the WCSLL’s opening reception, Jensen and his founding members will meet around the conference table to discuss and ratify their suggestions for improving and celebrating area parks and landscapes.
The Wilmington Center for the Study of Local Landscape offers a combination of experiences and artworks derived from Wilmington-area landscapes. A waiting room, conference table and sign posts are all reimagined as displays for various photographic and collection-based projects created by Jensen. Brandywine Boulder is a 14-foot tall photograph depicting a stone of equal size found in Brandywine Creek State Park. Tree Love is an expansive photographic series installed on two full walls and is an in-depth study of tree graffiti in area parks. The photographs expose generations of love-inspired scrawls that date back to the 1920s. The tables in the waiting room serve as displays for an array of 19th-21st Century artifacts discovered throughout the parks. The WCSLL serves, in some ways, like a tourist bureau for visitors new to Wilmington or for locals interested in seeing the parks anew. Jensen’s collection of found objects and installations of photographs confirm that even in the most familiar landscapes there remains room for discovery and wonder.
To begin his residency, Jensen explored Delaware on foot, walking 100 miles of byways and back roads from Wilmington to Rehoboth. The walk was a chance for Jensen to study the landscape and immerse himself in the small towns, new subdivisions, strip malls, farm fields, forests and estuaries that make up the First State. A selection of photographs taken along the walk has been compiled into a magazine called Delawareness/Delawalking, which is on view in the waiting room at the WCSLL. A subjective, artistic response to Wilmington’s natural environment, Jensen’s Center for the Study of Local Landscape underscores the idea that in order to protect our parks, we must first develop a personal relationship to them. Through the artist’s playful use of the gallery as a bureaucratic space, we discover new ways to enjoy, protect, and participate in nature.
LWC II: Little Berlin: Gallery As Undefined Space
The Philadelphia-based artistic collaborative Little Berlin repurposes the Hennessy Project Space as an improvised art space for Little White Cubes, a curatorial project that contextualizes the gallery as work of art or creative medium. Founded in 2007 by two artists, Little Berlin identifies itself as an “undefined exhibition space” run by approximately ten members who approach curating from a creative, collaborative perspective. Current Little Berlin members treat the DCCA gallery as a makeshift satellite of the actual gallery located in Philadelphia’s Kensington neighborhood. Installing a TV stack for screening documentation of prior events, a “zine” library with armchair seating, a live video feed, and performance area in the gallery, Little Berlin’s treatment of the museum space exemplifies new media experimentation coupled with a do-it-yourself ethos.
Little Berlin was founded in 2007 by Kristen Neville-Taylor and Martha Savery. Pushing aside what was originally their studio space and removing walls to put up new ones, they opened the gallery doors in October at the Berks Warehouse (1801 N. Howard Street) to a warm reception. Someone told Neville-Taylor and Savery that with artists rehabbing buildings and starting up projects in a forgotten neighborhood, Philadelphia’s Kensington felt like postwar Berlin. Neville and Savery liked the notion, so they named their new space Little Berlin.
In 2009, the gallery, which up to this point had organized monthly exhibitions and dozens of events under the curation of only two individuals, became a collective of curatorial members. To help with funding and running the gallery, which operates with a DIY ethic and no outside financial support, Neville-Taylor and Savery put out an open call for membership for an “undefined exhibition space.” The new team included Robert “Tim” Panella, Tyler Kline, Masha Badinter, Beth Heinly, Alex Gartlemann, and Sam Belkowitz. When asked about Little Berlin’s goals Savery responded, “We don’t want to be a traditional collective. The members aren’t expected to do the usual show-and-tell artwork, but will have a say in what we do as an organization.” Members came from various backgrounds, including sculpture, new media, performance, installation, and experimental art, and events at the space reflected this diversity in curatorial approach through hosting dozens of artists from the Philadelphia community and around the world in monthly exhibitions.
After several conflicts arose at the original location, Little Berlin members decided it had outgrown its location within the Berks warehouse and moved to a new location at the Viking Mill building (2430 Coral Street) in 2010. At the time, Viking Mill was five floors of hallway with a scattering of artist studios, practice spaces for bands, and a few machine shops. The new space designated for Little Berlin was otherwise a hole in the wall, in an unused part of the warehouse, but offered 1200 sq. feet of potential and an attached courtyard for outdoor events. The renovations of the space prompted the creation of the zine “How To Turn A Cave Into A White Box” which documented the six-months process by which members of Little Berlin changed a dilapidated warehouse space into a polished white wall gallery space.
With the renovations completed, Little Berlin reopened its doors in May 2011. Many of the exhibitions at the new location began to boast a convergence of internet-based artwork with more traditional artworks found typically inside an art gallery. This motif is one that set Little Berlin apart from other galleries in the city of Philadelphia, keeping openings on the cutting edge of new media. Additionally, Little Berlin’s members, often referred to as curatorial members, began playing within the boundaries of “curating” as art practice, exhibiting databases (Flashflood, March 2012; >get>put, November 2012), displaying anonymously-made memes and products (PRRRSONA, September 2012; Repeat, April 2013), showing the work of faux artists (Limits and Demonstrations, October 2013), and even hosting a giant Dionysian party complete with its own rock-based currency (Plato’s Porno Cave, January 2012; March 2013).
In 2012, member Angela McQuillan learned the Viking Mill landlord also owned the large vacant lot adjacent to the building and negotiated a multiple year rent-free lease in exchange for developing the plot of land. Through a successful Knight Arts Challenge Grant received in 2012-2013, Little Berlin built the Fairgrounds, a large outdoor community park and sculpture garden, which has hosted barbecues, movie screenings, block parties, lots of gardening, and the elusive mobile EverNever Night Market as well as commissioned several sculptors to create the various artworks scattered around the grounds.
By 2013, many of the original members of Little Berlin had parted ways with the gallery; some becoming too tied up in their own art making schedules and others moving on to other projects. Beth Heinly and Maria Dumlao (a member addition in 2011) moved on to join Vox Populi. Kelani Nichole (a member addition in 2011) opened her own gallery in Williamsburg, called Transfer, focusing specifically on Internet-based art. The only remaining member of the original flagship collective is Tyler Kline. The other members include Lee Tusman, Marshall James Kavanaugh, Erin Bernard, Patrick Quinn, Patrick Koziol, and Peter Erickson with three new recent members Eric Danger Clark, Madeline Hewitt, and Veronica A. Perez. With this new cast of creative laborers picking up where those who preceded them left off, Little Berlin has grown into an epicenter of culture for its current East Kensington home, and the city of Philadelphia as a whole. Each month it hosts events like the ongoing Dream Oven concerts, film screenings, poetry readings, lectures, wrestling matches, and other one-off events in addition to the exhibitions curated by its members.
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 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.
Assigned Readings: Irit Rogoff, The Educational Turn in Curating; Simon Sheikh, Positively White Cube Revisited, Andrea Fraser, From the Critique of Institutions to an Institution of Critique
Temple, White Cube, Laboratory by Iwona Blazwick in What Makes A Great Exhibition?, Edited by Paula Marincola
Museums In Motion , Edward P. Alexander
Saturday, February 8, 10 a.m.
inCUBEate: Conceptualize Your Own Gallery or Exhibition
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.
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. Addressing all manner of educational and public outreach—from TV/Web Commercials to educational symposia, we will discuss how museums and artists can utilize new media and design to educate and engage audiences.
Saturday, February 22, 10 a.m.
Curating Beyond the Cube: Exhibitions as Schools of Thought
Group Classroom Assignment: Roleplay Debate: Assuming the roles of various artists and curators, we will engage in a scripted scholarly debate on whether Curators can be Artists.
Looking at different institutions curatorial programs, we will develop an appreciation for curatorial styles and objectives and consider the curatorial philosophies and styles of Maria Lind, Harrell Fletcher, Jens Hoffman, Independent Curators International, and artistic approaches to curating such as Maurizio Cattelan’s Wrong Gallery, Goran Djordjevic’s Museum of American Art; and Anton Vidokle’s unitednationsplaza, Pablo Helguera’s educational work at MoMA, among many others.
Readings will include critical essays by Robert Storr and Oscar Wilde on the role of the critic in relation to art and the curator as artist.