“White Cube” and “Critique of Institutions” Essay by Jordan Dawson

Too rarely is the institution of an art gallery examined. Does the place where art is put not become a piece of the art itself? O’Doherty claims that it does in his essay the “White Cube.” This is difficult to accept. To many, modern museums can seem stubbornly strict, which is true to a certain extent. It abides by a particular formula of objectivity. Uniformity. The intention is to attract no attention. The focus is the art. The rest is nothing but context. However, this is precisely where O’Doherty finds value. Some might gather it as odd. Isn’t much of modern art based upon the disapproval of conventional structure? How could something made to avoid the interpretation of any value at all, hold real value? Well, it’s the timelessness that it conveys. Throughout history, galleries were made to close out the exterior world. Egyptian tombs, Paleolithic Cave drawings; they all seem to be an attempt to isolate art from reality. Art has always been considered a sacred entity, one that should be protected from the harshness of the outside world. To shelter art is to preserve history. It is to make the past the present, and therefore the future. That which was made during a precise moment in time suddenly becomes beyond time when it is put on display in a museum. Museums are public time machines and the whole world still categorizes H.G. Wells under science fiction. But it’s important to mention that so few recognize the value of these art institutions because of how well they’re doing their job. Windows are removed and walls are painted white to provide objective context for the artwork on display. The art is always the emphasis. Modern Galleries that abide by the “White Cube” formula are essentially forcing their viewers to surrender themselves to the group. The individual then becomes lost in infinity. He becomes merely a spectator in the vast blur that is time and space. It is the ancient human desire for pure form. That which is perfect is most precious to us, given our own inherent imperfection.

Institutional Critique is a very strange subject, given that it is the analysis of something that harbors other things to be analyzed. However, it does demonstrate that there is no art without the “institution.” The “institution” is that which acknowledges art as “art”. It’s a shelter and a gathering for artists and art-goers. The institution, as frustrating as it may sound, is the glue that holds today’s “art” world together. Fraser, in “Critique of Institutions,” focuses more on the legitimacy of the practice than anything else. She explains that it has dissolved into an arbitrary matter, one that is considered archaic and anachronistic. She blames this partially on the art world’s unwillingness to accept the “institution” as a real and important piece of the puzzle. Contemporary Art prides itself in a sort of self-rebellion, where artists create art so as to challenge the norm, but then eagerly sell that art to exhibitions and agree to magazine photo-shoots. From what I gathered though, “Institutional Critique” was doomed from the beginning because its subject’s value is measured by the extent of its own subtlety.

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