exploding the temple
 e x p l o d i n g    t h e     t e m p l e
exploding the temple

by Annette Loudon

Traditional exhibition space is an expression of Architectural ideology. Not only must it strictly obey the laws of physics, protect art works from the elements, and accommodate people as well as art, but the space in which art is exhibited has a profound effect on the way that art is experienced. As Markus Lupertz has said, "The classical museum is built like this: four walls, light coming in from above, two doors, one for those coming in, the other for those going out. All these new buildings are often beautiful, noteworthy buildings, but like all art, hostile to 'other' types of art. They do not give simple, innocent pictures, simple innocent sculptures a chance...." 1

Architecture contributes it's own set of issues which have evolved along side exhibition practices throughout the history of art. Constructing a physical exhibition space is expensive and time consuming,and buildings are permanent. Art museums are traditionally important reservoirs of culture. For this reason, art museums are often grand buildings designed by prestigious architects. These spaces are designed to be permanent, which means that the popular aesthetic and functional ideologies supported by architecture at the time a museum is built, will impact the way art will be exhibited in the future.

genius(?) + money + power = art museum

The grandeur, permanence, and expense that are inherent to physical exhibition spaces, form the basic framework within which curatorial practices have emerged and developed. In a culture where art is perceived as the product of genius, and as a luxury commodity, it is the elite few who decide what gets seen and what has value. Who selects the great works of art? How do you recognize genius? Is genius timeless? Why is this painting worth 3 million dollars? In the large bureaucracy of an art museum, the role of the curator can become complicated by financial and political agendas that must be served. This can have the effect of limiting the range of exhibition options open to a curator. At the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, shows featuring movie set design and tattoo art are geared towards a broad audience. There is a strong likelihood that this commercialized exhibition style is due much more to the economics of the marketplace than the ideals of the gallery curators.

As traditional galleries require every decision to go through the "proper channels", it becomes more difficult for artists and curators to collaborate on shows. Whilst this type of collaboration could allow for a smoother transition of work from the studio to the gallery, and produce a more accurate representation of the artists' work, there is rarely room for this type of artistic freedom.

In his book, "On the Museum's Ruins", Douglas Crimp quotes Hegel to show how in the museum, "the contemplation of art has lost for us genuine truth and life, and has rather been transferred into our ideas instead of maintaining it's earlier necessity in reality". This focus on the "ideal", and lack of acknowledgement of art which emphasizes political and material aspects, is reinforced by the architecture which in turn limits what can be exhibited. 2 Crimp sees the architect's role as key in what he perceives to be the exclusionary curatorial practices of modern museums. Crimp believes that James Stirling's design for the Neue Staatsgalerie in Stuttgart, Germany is unwittingly perpetuating the old idealist museum model. Irritated by Stirling's masquerading of the Neue Staatsgalerie as an example of Postmodern architecture, he declares "Evidently nothing in the practices of the art of the past 150 years suggested to Stirling that the sequence of nineteenth-century picture galleries might have to be reconsidered." 3

Despite a growing sense that traditional art museums and galleries no longer cater to the art scene of our time, they still constitute the primary source of official recognition for artistic achievement. Traditional museums and galleries are designed to elevate "great art" for public appreciation, and they bestow a sense of legitimacy to the art that is exhibited in these environments.

In reaction to perceptions that many new forms of art do not sit well in the traditional exhibition space, an increasing number of curators are turning to non-traditional spaces to put on shows. Though many of these alternative spaces do not offer the clean slate of the pristine white-washed walls of a traditional museum or gallery setting, many curators are stepping up to the challenge of exhibiting new art in new spaces.

exploding temple (expanding universe) = virtual gallery

The collapse of time and distance is the key feature of virtual exhibition spaces. "The virtual realm by it's nature, has neither gravity, nor requires a response from an architectural structure. It has no climate which requires a surface of enclosure to define and protect interior space as understood in the physical world. Furthermore, there are no geographical limits, no site boundaries or property lines, to contain and define the bounds of the architecture within." 4

Hyper-links allow almost instantaneous transportation from one space or set of information to another. Any space can have portals to any number of other spaces; location is diminished in importance and non-linear narrative is the natural form. Narratives that may have been achieved through the natural navigation of space--facilitated by walls, doors, hallways, and stairs--must now be deliberately programmed.

In the case of networked virtual spaces, the architect has little control over how the space is rendered. Even if two visitors are using the same type of computer and software to browse a space, there are viewing configurations that people will "tweak "to suit themselves. A curator cannot control the final representation of an exhibition in the same way it can be controlled in physical space.

Virtual exhibition spaces are freed from many of the concerns which plague traditional exhibition spaces, and, at the same time, introduce a new set of limitations. Marcos Novak believes new constraints replace the old ones, commenting that "... When bricks become pixels, the tectonics of architecture become informational. City planning becomes data structure design, construction costs become computational costs, accessibility becomes transmissibility, proximity is measured in numbers of required links and available bandwidth." 5 Novak thinks the constraints of the physical realm have severely limited the potential of architecture, whereas virtual space liberates visionary architecture by giving it a place to develop. For Novak, "The architecture of Cyberspace offers the opportunity to mend the rupture between how we know the world and how we conceive and execute architecture. It allows a far greater latitude of experimentation than any previous architectonic opportunity." 6

The unique spatial features of virtual exhibition spaces allow new methods of presenting work to be explored, where the emphasis lies less on historical or geographic relationships, and more on visual, intellectual, or emotional elements of the work. Digital information is easily programmed into diferent configurations allowing curators to provide multiple navigations of a space to highlight different aspects of a show. But curators need to address the problem that, at least in the short term, visitors to a virtual space may be disoriented. Only a very high end virtual space is able to accomodate the human body, and this accommodation is currently limited to the representation of the body and it's movements. The majority of virtual spaces today address only the eyes and ears, leaving the rest of the senses behind. Familiar traditional navigational methods may have to be appropriated by curators to facilitate navigation in an unfamiliar type of space.

Since virtual real estate is cheap, and the space in any given domain is potentially infinite, how do you decide how large a space to create and how many artists to include in a show. When a show is over do you "move it out" or just archive it? If you archive a show is it still part of the same space, or does it require a new space? In virtual exhibition space, there is the potential for the new freedoms to obscure the original goals of a curator. Although it is easy to design a new space for each new show, it may be more interesting to see how a single space can be transformed over and over again.

The ease of manipulation offered by digital editing tools could also serve to blur the lines between the artist and the curator. The Web is already seeing artists experimenting with curatorial roles. Elizabeth O'Grady thinks the Web "challenges the authority of the curator."7 She writes, "In some cases artists act as their own curators, providing interpretive material and context for their own pieces. Thus, the artist's 'original' piece has in a sense become the gallery, self curated and mounted, awaiting an audience." 8

An extreme example of traditional roles being broken down is Stratus, a networked virtual art space. Stratus is not curated or built by one person, but added to by each artist. This type of space is not devoid of curatorial influence altogether, but it is certainly not curated in the traditional sense. The basic structure and expansion mechanisms are designed by the creators of Stratus. These factors have a significant impact on what type of art can be displayed and who is likely to contribute. In this way Stratus is practically curated almost purely by it's own structure.

Virtual exhibition spaces exist in a realm where location is formulated by a digital address in an abstract landscape that which is constantly changing. There is no denying, however, that the psychological effect of traveling to a great old building full of art has a significant effect on how that art is experienced. As the hyper-link has removed the element of distance, a virtual gallery is surrounded by an infinite number of uncontrollable neighbors. Visitors are skipping from place to place and will not necessarily arrive at the exhibition in the frame of mind a traditional curator might usually expect. In fact, they may arrive unintentionally. O'Grady concludes, "Art on the web may look hot, but it's merely standing by the side of the road in the digital rush hour, desperate to attract, tossed out like a dropped handkerchief to those who would pick it up." 9 Interestingly, what O'Grady perceives as the diminished stature of art on the Web may be exactly the kind of environment that disenfranchised artists are seeking. Billboard artists such as Barbara Kruger have already sought out precisely this type of environment for the exhibition of their works in physical space. They have deliberately placed their work into environments where it is will be seen by many unsuspecting passers-by.

art museum + virtual gallery = new curatorial challenges

Museums have fostered the notion that art is the pure representation of an artists vision, as the white walls of a gallery magically transfer a perfect understanding of this vision into the heart and mind of it's beholder. New curatorial styles that develop within virtual spaces may help alter the perception that galleries and museums as have become spaces of "exclusions and confinements", by accomodating new art forms, and supporting a more diverse range of art ideologies. As old practices become redundant and new ones develop, it will become easier to differentiate between elements that are fundamental to the art of curating and those which were simply products of the limited physical environments in which they were formed.


1.Markus Lupertz, "Art and Architecture," in New Museum Buildings in the Federal Republic of Germany (Frankfurt am Main, 1985), p 33 (translation modified). Quoted by Crimp's, "The Postmodern Museum", "On the Museum's Ruins", p290

2.Douglas Crimp, "The Postmodern Museum", p.295

3.Hegel, quoted by Douglas Crimp in "The Postmodern Museum", p.302 On the Museum's Ruins

4.Dace A. Campbell, "Nature of Cyberspace"

5.Marcos Novak, "Transmitting Architecture: The Transphysical City"

6.Marcos Novak, "Transmitting Architecture: The Transphysical City"

7.Elizabeth O'Grady, "The Rake's progress of Pixels: Why Web Art is Sleazy", pg 42, Mix

8.Elizabeth O'Grady, "The Rake's progress of Pixels: Why Web Art is Sleazy", pg 42, Mix

9.Elizabeth O'Grady, "The Rake's progress of Pixels: Why Web Art is Sleazy", pg.42, Mix


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Path of Least Resistance