Cecile Poignant » The Monotony Of The White Cube

The Monotony Of The White Cube


A quick look around you reveals that white is everywhere. Perhaps you’re sitting in a room surrounded by white walls. Or looking at cool places – pure and clean volumes – on Instagram? One question pop into my mind: why is white so mainstream all over the world just like if it was an evidence?

An omnipresent aesthetic
Recent waves of the post Marie Kondo effect might make it seem that way: a stack of art books in front of white walls with Kilim carpets, a few eclectic splash of colors here and there and some green plants and looking great on Instagram… Even if this aesthetic is fading away ..

What does that really reveal about us? Why are we into such monotony when it comes to decoration? It might be the desire of neutral timeless. But how come white can seduce us on such a large scale, like a global worldwide mainstream trend?

The explanation for this universal success has largely evolved from the world of the Arts. In the Renaissance, sculpturists abandoned colour completely and expressed themselves only in the white volume of the marble. Over the years, white becomes a claim as seen in the 1930’s at Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam. After an entire renovation of the museum, the director, Baron David Cornelius Röell speaks about a cleansing process: “The rooms were cleaned, a canopy was stretched under the ceiling lighting and the walls were covered; everything has become very clear.”

The houses imagined by the disruptive architects of the XX°century – Le Corbusier, Mallet Stevens… were white to serve a radically different lifestyle focused on functionality and importance of daylight.
White looked really good and modern, and, little by little, white became the implicit substratum of the art exhibition. On a global level the concept of the flexible white cube becomes the default solution for displaying art, which leaves us, the visitors, wanting to replicate at home this concept.

To me, the success of white comes from its purity: in an era that prone transparency, shadows are suspicious and white is perfect! White also acts as a signal of freedom – everything seems possible to us with white walls. These walls will successively accommodate our different desires. We dream of a white cube from floor to ceiling, an idealistic blank volume in which we can draw our life.

No doubt, it’s a safe bet: white it is a colour unlikely to draw criticism from anybody and it saves you from having to consider different options. It’s convenient for so many reasons that no one can be really against white…


what’s next
But if you look closer, it seems like in all of white’s predominance, most avant-garde art galleries are re-painting their walls in other hues than white, and colours that match the exhibition are becoming more important than ever. It appears that the global phenomenon of the white cube may be running out of steam and we will soon have to learn how to reuse colours to imagine a much more personalized future.

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