Thursday, May 30, 2013

Color Theory

To paint or not to paint, that is the question. Should contemporary gallery and museum walls be painted any color other than white? Should the 'white cube' as its known be abolished for good?  It's a long running debate in the art world and has been addressed by many artists, myself included. In fact for my senior thesis show I painted the gallery walls bright pink and added big painted flowers, but that was the work, not the back drop and was a direct statement on the white cube. Another student made a white cube piñata and as a performance piece beat it until colorful confetti came spilling out all over the gallery floor. Fabulous piece. Seriously great work by Rocio Mendoza. 

There are some museums that are opting for colored walls, mostly for historic works and for specific shows that fit the mood and feeling of the work itself. But in the contemporary art world, white is still widely acknolowdged to be the best choice. There are some art critics such as Jonathan Jones who argue that anything but white is distracting and compromises the work itself and the only colors we should be focusing on are the colors in the artwork.

I happen to agree. I love me a crisp white wall to hang my work. I don't want anything pulling the eye away or changing the feeling of the piece. White is bright and cheerful yet goes unnoticed in a gallery setting. If walls are painted in any other color it is inevitable that this will somehow become a focus, mostly because it's not the norm and anyone who frequents art shows will be interested in the the chosen color and how and if it effects the work ultimately leading the discussion away from the art. 


When it comes to interior design my ideas are very different and while I still love a crisp white room with bright colorful furniture and pops of color I also love colored walls. My bedroom is chocolate brown and my kitchen is dark red. Which, by the way I later found out was the worst possible choice I could make since red is know to increase appetite. We now eat in the white living room. 
But art is not interior decoration and deserves to be the center of attention and the only focus in a gallery or museum setting. 

What do you think? Do you agree? Do you disagree? Let's discuss, leave your comment below. 


  1. Sara, interesting discussion. Have you seen the Helmut Newton exhibition in Rome? Major wall color going on there. Does it work for black and white photography? Here are a couple of links about it:

    And see images of the installation here:

    Are those images above of your home?

    1. Hi Naomi, thanks for your comment. Sorry I'm just getting to respond now. Thanks for sharing the links, that is definitely some major color going on there for sure. I think it looks great with the black and whit photography and it definitely works but it most certainly sets a 'mood' and a feeling, almost staging in a certain way. And most definitely discussion worthy.

      I wish that was my home! No, just interiors I admire!

  2. Sometimes I think of a colored wall as an extension of a carefully-chosen frame, focusing attention on the art, rather than detracting. I still recall a lovely grayed aqua wall at the Getty, behind a show of b&w photos taken by WPA-era photographers such as Dorothea Lange. The color worked in exactly that way.

  3. Hi Pam, thank you for stopping by and leaving a comment! I definitely think colored walls have more freedom when it comes to black and white photography and in the case of WPA era photos which, was essentially the light at the end of the tunnel after the Great Depression and the calm before the WW's storm, the peaceful, joyful acqua walls probably worked well but it most certainly sets a tone and feeling to the work. I think in the case of painting and sculpture where color and concept is essential to the work it can every different. I think this debate will go on forever, who knows! Thanks and I hope you'll stop by again soon!


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