Topic: Notes on: Brian O’Doherty “Inside the White Cube” Pt 3

Chapter 4 – Die Galerie als Gestus

The last chapter I made notes on is the one about the ARTISTIC GESTURE, as was mentioned in the first chapter. I like this term, I find it quite transparent and useful. I used it before for the talk w/ Marga van Mechelen in Amsterdam:
In his essay THE GALLERY AS GESTURE, Brian O'Doherty defines the ARTISTIC GESTURE as a singular artistic action, an individualist, daring act. The successful gesture created a narrative, became a story by changing history. He writes furthermore that these gestures – in his case gallery performances and installations mostly of the nineteen-sixties – always had two audiences, one present and another one not present, which, as he writes, „is usually us“. We, as this second audience, are looking back at the „event“ of a performance as a historical fact, an occurrence.
O’Doherty furthermore says that the original audience is usually not appreciative, often nervous, not at all pleased. It is only in retrospect that we learn to appreciate the gesture. The photos of these events give us an opportunity “an einer Art von Schöpfungsakt teilzunehmen.” (101)
All these gestures are transformations of the given situation in one way or another. What makes them potent, I believe, is that they are stop signs, or rather they are the stops themselves in the train of events, interruptions in the business as usual:
“Erfolgreiche Gesten – das sind solche, die ihre Präsentationsform überleben – unterbrechen normalerweise den Dialog, der sich auf die akzeptierten Normen des Diskurses bezieht. Beim Spiel nennt man das Modifikation der Regeln. Diese Gesten besitzen ein Element von Scharlatanerie und Wahrsagerei. Sie setzen auf eine undeutlich wahrgenommene, aber wünschenswerte Zukunft.“ (127)
The gallery gestures start with Duchamps, continue on with Yves Klein, Armand, Daniel Spoerri, Andy Warhol and Kaprow and many others. It is therefore not an American tradition, but it became quite alive in New York in the 1960s. Many of these gestures can be described as parody, mocking the art business, but many of them really challenged the spectator, the gallery space and what is meant by art and showing art.
There are several categories of gestures, those that question the gallery space altogether are of course in the minority. O’Doherty points out that at least the American avant-garde never really questioned the gallery space as an idea, except for one brief moment when artists did their performances and events in the landscape and only brought photos back to the gallery. (109)
Buren_closed gallery
There are however two other examples: namely in 1968, when Daniel Buren sealed a gallery in Milano (110) and in 1969, when Robert Barry published in an art magazine the following add: “During the exhibition the gallery will be closed.” Which then took place a few months later (114) The other category would be gestures that question the perception of the spectator, for example by use of extreme light or darkness. Here often the spectator himself becomes the art piece. These are classic examples of transgression, in the sense that the spectator not only is inside the artwork, he himself generates the artwork out of himself. „Seiner Sicht beraubt, hielt [der Zuschauer] sich an sich selbst und entwickelte aus sich den Inhalt des Ereignisses. [In einem Instant-Kunstwerk] verschmelzen die beiden Träger von Erwartungen, die Galerie und der Betrachter, im weißen Raum zu einem einzigen System.“ (117)
„Die Minimal Art reduzierte die Reize und steigerte die Resonanz, indem sie sie auf das System bezog.“ (117)
This means that for the lack of perceivable objects, the situation itself (the system: the rules, the methods of presentation and behaviour and so forth) becomes interesting and visible. This is a strategy of exposure or disclosure by taking something else (the art object) away, particularly where it’s intentions are political.
The political exposures would form the third strand of gestures. Aimed for example at the art market, admission to art exhibitions and so on.
Another strategy would be to include the outside world in the gallery space and dissolve the gallery hereby. For example bringing people or plants, animals in the space. This can of course also result in trangressions, since the contemplative perception becomes endangered.