‘Notes on the Gallery Space’ – Brian O’Doherty

screen-shot-2016-12-19-at-15-25-05In his article ‘Notes on the Gallery Space’ from the book ‘Inside the White Cube’, Brian O’Doherty talks about the way in which we frame and hang art has evolved over time in relation to the context of the exhibition space, focusing on the importance of said space relating to the subject matter involved.
Further research revealed that O’Doherty is an extremely intelligent writer, having worked as an art critic for The New York Times for a number of years. It is not surprising, then, that the way in which the article has been written suggests that he has assumed that the reader already has a large understanding of certain words, artists, and so on. This makes the text less accessible and understandable to anyone who doesn’t possess such knowledge, particularly when it comes to the vocabulary used.


Personally, I found it very difficult to grasp what it was he was trying to say, not because the ideas were necessarily complex in themselves, but because the language used in the piece often felt convoluted, as though O’Doherty’s aim was to show off what a large vocabulary he possesses over anything else. From what I have managed to gather, he appears to suggest that the gallery space is just as carefully planned out as the artworks themselves, that the environment of said white cube is essential to the viewer’s experience of the pieces within it. He states “a gallery is constructed along laws as rigorous as those for building a medieval church. The outside world must not come in, so windows are usually sealed off. Walls are painted white. The ceiling becomes the source of light. The wooden floor is polished so that you click along clinically, or carpeted so that you pad sound- lessly, resting the feet while the eyes have at the wall. The art is free, as the saying used to go, ‘to take on its own life.’” This seems to imply that while we may not consider the colour of the walls or the kind of flooring used as being especially important, there is actually intricate logic and thought behind the creation of a gallery space. While I didn’t particularly enjoy reading O’Doherty’s piece, I was interested in the ideas he seemed to touch on in relation to the way the artwork and gallery space feed into each other. I had never thought to consider this relationship before reading the text, and I feel that it will now have an impact on my future gallery experiences, and I am excited to observe this aspect of displaying art and form opinions for myself when I next venture to an exhibition.

Below, I have created a glossary of words from the text that I was less familiar with in order to help understand the it better.


Biped – an animal that uses two legs for walking.

Confounded – used for emphasis, particularly to express anger or annoyance.

Glut – an excessively abundant supply of something/to fill to excess.

Superfluous – being more than is sufficient or required; excessive/unnecessary or needless.

Armature – the rotating coil or coils of a dynamo or electric motor/an open framework on which a sculpture is moulded with clay or similar material.

Archetypal – very typical of a certain kind of person or thing.

Secular – not connected with religious or spiritual matters.

Transpose – to change the relative position, order, or sequence of something/cause to change places/interchange.

Vicissitudes – a change or variation occurring in the course of something/interchange or alternation, as of states or things.

Kinesthetic – the sensation of movement or strain in muscles, tendons, and joints.

Intrinsic – belonging to a thing by its very nature.

Concatenate – linked together, as in a chain.

Dado – the lower part of the wall of a room, below about waist height, when decorated differently from the upper part.

Judicious – using or showing judgment as to action or practical expediency/having, exercising, or characterized by good or discriminating judgment.

Perambulate – to walk or travel about.

Barbarity – brutal or inhuman conduct; cruelty/crudity of style, taste, expression, etc.

Taxonomic – the science or technique of classification/a classification into ordered categories.

Progenitor – a person or thing from which a person, animal, or plant is descended or originates; an ancestor or parent/a person who originates a cultural or intellectual movement.

Coulisses – a flat piece of scenery at the side of the stage in a theatre.

Repoussoirs – a figure or object in the extreme foreground.

Parenthesis – a word or phrase inserted as an explanation or afterthought into a passage which is grammatically complete without it.

Impetus – the force or energy with which the body moves.

Topological – the study of geometrical properties and spatial relations.

Desiderata – something that is needed or wanted.

Recalcitrant – having an obstinately uncooperative attitude towards authority or discipline.

Vernacular macho – having or characterised by qualities considered manly, especially when manifested in an assertive, self-conscious, or dominating way/having a strong or exaggerated sense of power or the right to dominate.


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