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“Unshadowed, white, clean, artificial – the space is devoted to the technology of aesthetics. Works of art are mounted, hung, scattered for study. Their ungrubby surfaces are untouched by time and its vicissitudes. Art exists in a kind of eternity of display, and though there is lots of ‘period’…there is no time,” Brian O’Doherty described, dissecting the “white cube” phenomenon in his seminal 1979 essay Inside the White Cube. Sao Paolo-based curator, Adriano Pedrosa’s current exhibition, “Open Cube” at the White Cube gallery, Mason’s Yard, sets out to challenge the very identity of not only the White Cube as a curatorial concept but of Jay Jopling’s own gallery.
Jopling founded the White Cube galleries in 1993, with the opening of the late Duke Street space. Now, with three galleries across London, one in Hong Kong and one in Sao Paolo, the White Cube is an old friend of the commercial art world, its almost impenetrable walls inviting in only the most elite works. The Mason’s Yard gallery open since September 2006, was designed by London-based architects MRJ Rundell & Associates, tucked behind Mayfair’s St James’ and a mere hundred yards from the original Duke Street site.
Pedrosa’s quest launched in January of this year, under the title “Call for entries: Open Cube at White Cube Mason’s Yard.” In an attempt to democratise the White Cube and open it up to unknown artists, “stepping away from the system of networks and previous knowledge, indications and suggestions,” his only prerequisite for the application was that artists would be available for interview by him in London, in March.
In a five-month process, Pedrosa whittled down the applicants from the 3000, to 38 interviewees and the 17 final selected artists. The aim, Pedrosa posits, was to reposition the White Cube gallery, “a prestigious high-end gallery working with established artists…to somehow try and undo this – making the wonderful resources; the space and the team available to younger, unknown artists.” Through this, Pedrosa not only challenged the concept of Jopling’s gallery, but also his own skill as a curator, posing the dilemma of how a curator can put together a fluid exhibition through only an open call.
The exhibition was curated thematically, the ground floor gallery displaying works which directly question the White Cube concept, “thinking about the opaque cube, the impenetrable cube…and playing [instead] with the transparent cube, the democratic cube.” Items in this gallery included Brazilian artist, Adriano Amaral’s crumbling ionic column, and British artist Martin John Callanan’s photographic prints of coinage, which ostensibly questions the value of high art.
The lower-ground floor gallery present variations on abstraction, found objects including Irish artist Nicky Teegan’s Void, a set of speakers that emit a ghastly, stomach-churning white noise and Dutch artist Frank Ammerlaan’s Day’s End, an iridescent, corrugated sphere made up of conjoined rectangles of zinc on steel.
“Open Cube,” on display until 21 September, presents works which sit alongside each other, both wildly different and yet comfortably interacting, a sure-fire credit to Pedrosa, considering the broad nature of the open call and the sheer amount of applicants. But there’s an inescapable irony in the nature of the exhibition itself. By stepping away from the elitism of Jopling’s gallery and the concept of the white cube, whose sole endeavour was to remove any preconceptions from the works of art displayed within the gallery walls, has Pedrosa not further steeped his artists in the ideologies behind the white cube, or lack thereof?