“In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo” – T.S. Elliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
“What shall we use
To fill the empty spaces
Where we used to talk?” – Roger Waters, Empty Spaces
I heard about the opening last month of Dear Patty Smith, a new gallery in Fitzroy. It was just the opening of the space; there was no exhibition, just a space. And as people arrived at the gallery there was less and less of the space. It would have been better if they had kept the doors locked then the space would have been perfect.
In my blog entry about “The White Room” I discussed the milky homogeneity of Melbourne’s art galleries. In this entry I want to ask why so many look less than half filled. What is so important about all this empty space?
The space acts as a framing device for art without frames, the space acts as a plinth for sculptures without plinths. The art gallery space has become essential to so much contemporary art but at the cost that over half of it must remain empty, that more and more space must separate each work. So there is not much to look at.
Often there is only room for a single work, like Kristin McIver’s “Divine Intervention” at Blindside Gallery Two. “Divine Intervention” consisted of a circle of neon letters spelling out “Life Unlimited” hanging over a collection of artificial plants. In Blindside Gallery One, Harriet Parsons “Homeland” occupied one wall. And it is not just contemporary art, contemporary craft is also adopting this aesthetic of excessive space. At No No Gallery, in North Melbourne, Stephanie Hicks “A Short Season” occupied a little more than one wall, with a few wreaths of paper flowers made from children’s books and four A3 size photographic collages, but did not even include the image used to promote the exhibition.
In contrast to the packed aesthetic of the 19th Century the contemporary art gallery is the architectural space par excellence, consider the difference in architectural significance between the Guggenheim (New York or Bilbao) and the Louvre. The minimalist purity of the space exudes an aura of scientific seriousness to the activity within it. It is a hospital for the soul, a hygienic space concerned with healing the world spirit. It is a clinical space that presumptuously expects that some essential quasi-religious activity will take place in it when it is just somewhere to install art.