Towards an Open Dialogue

Art Object and Exhibition Space

By Matina Charalambi, on 08th Jan, 2014 22:41

Rober Smithson "Breaking Circle/Spiral Hill" image source:oly-forum

The reciprocity between art and architecture had long been a subject of study among art historians, which raised a great number of questions concerning the boundaries and the differentiations between the two practices. The entrance to the postmodern era, though, has opened the way to theoretical approaches as much as artistic practices based on interdisciplinarity and hybridity that surpass the modernist claim for specificity. The art-architecture connection is redefined by and through a crossover activity that is mainly focused on the construction of space and the production of experiences, beyond mere contemplation, that transform the institution (museum/gallery) into a “space of social critique”1.


El Lissitzki "Proun Room" | image source: goatmajorprojects

Since the ‘20s many artists (such as El Lissitski, K. Schwitters, P. Mondrian, Brancusi and M. Duchamp) had already explored the artwork’s potential to expand beyond its physical limits (the picture frame or the pedestal) to the architectural space that surrounded and informed it. A fact that intervened drastically to the way that institutional architecture used to function in relation to the exhibited art and the viewer’s perception.


Kurt Schwitters "Merzbau"| image source: soundandinteraction


Carl Andre "Uncarved Blocks" | image source: phaidon

Still, with Minimalism there is a crucial turn from the work (sculpture) as “form” to the work (sculpture) as “structure” and finally as “place” (C. Andre)2 that altered the art-architecture relation as well as the traditional neutrality of the museum that used to be addressed as a plain context where art was shown. Minimalist three-dimensional work claimed to be fully engaged with the space that surrounded it, as well as with the spatial and temporal conditions of perception, thus challenging the boundaries between art and architecture. Richard Gluckman (Dia’s architect) argued that the art “should dominate the space”3, hence he opened up the structure of the art institution in order to dignify the works. Minimalism led to an overall activation of space that called for large exhibition spaces that could be better found in old factories and abandoned warehouses. Dia was one of a series of renovated industrial spaces that functioned as institutions appropriate for the punctuation of the works and that underlined a new connection between art and architecture, as dictated by the art movements of the ‘70s.


Michael Heizer for Dia Art Foundation | image source: diaart

Installation Art, Site-Specific, Institutional Critique and Public Art, movements raised within the ‘60s and the 70s, gave works that were characterized by a new monumentality, which competed with the scale of architecture and reinterpreted the term “architectural sculpture” through a new dialectical connection between the visual arts and architecture4. Already with Minimalism there was an attempt by artists (such as R. Morris, C. Andre, Walter De Maria) to re-define sculpture through structures that occupied a specific place and involved it more actively in the aesthetic experience of the work. This attempt to broaden the sculptural field was even more apparent to the work of R. Serra with his semi-architectural forms or R. Smithson with his exploration of the possibilities of the site and the landscape.


Richard Serra "Band" | image source: moma

Rosalind Krauss, in her essay "Sculpture in the Expanded Field", commends on "sculpture's expansion", after the '60s, from a closed, self-referential form to the fields of architecture and landscape, something that marked the passage from the modern to the postmodern. This passage was deeply characterized by an opening of the visual arts to different mediums and practices that (concerning the art-architecture relation) came up as "process of mapping the axiomatic features of the architectural experience -the abstract conditions of openness and closure- onto the reality of a given space."5


Rikrit Tiravanija "Untitled (demo station)" | image source: walkerart

For the past 20 years, while using a variety of mediums that tests the architectural as well as the socioeconomic aspects of the exhibition space, contemporary art's capability to create a relational network based on social interaction6,  blurs the boundaries between art and architecture even more. Many contemporary visual artists (such as R. Tiravanija, P. Parreno, L. Gillick) adopt architectural forms that function as separate spaces within the exhibition space and serve as platforms for the production of sociality. Such visual practices decontextualise the gallery or the museum setting7 and thus call for a transformation of the institutional space to a dynamic and malleable “workshop”8 available for the staging of work that occurs as the result of an intermingling between different disciplines and activities.


Philippe Parreno "Anywhere, anywhere out of the world" Palais de Tokyo | image source : moussemagazine


Liam Gillick "Bundeskunsthalle installation" | image source : artobserved

During an era dominated by the concept of space, the contemporary encounter between art and architecture tends to be the primary site, where contemporary spatiality could be better visually understood. This open and ever-developing dialogue between the so-called “spatial arts” could better serve as the basis for new directions in museum design that would render the institution into a fluid and transitional space that supports conviviality and exchange between content and context.

article references:

1.Jane Rendel, Art and Architecture. A placebetween, I.B Tauris, London 2006, p.2
2.Nicholas Serota, Experience or Interpretation: The Dilemma of Museums of Modern ArtInterpretation: The Dilemma of Museums of Modern Art, Thames &Hudson Ltd, London 2000
3. Susanna Sirefman, “Formed and Forming: Contemporary Museum Architecture”,Daedalus vol.128,no.3(Summer1999),p.305(
5.Rosalind Krauss, “Sculpture in the Expanded Field”, Ocober, Vol.8 (Spring 1979), p.40
6.Nicolas Bourriaud, Relational Aesthetics, Les Presses du réel, Paris 2002
7.Jane Rendel, “Art’s Use of Architecture:Place, Site and Setting”, Psycho Buildings: Artists Take On Architecture (2008) exhibition catalogue, Hayward Gallery, London
(curated by Ralph Rugoff)