White Cube: Thinking outside the box / Art , Culture , Experiences
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White Cube: Thinking outside the box

Sales & Senior Artist Coordinator Jessica Warren on the artist-led gallery's unique viewing experience.

Sales & Senior Artist Coordinator Jessica Warren on the artist-led gallery's unique viewing experience.

London: a vibrant city with a stellar art scene. And a thriving creative community. The past year and a half has been rough for the city’s cultural institutions but as many flock to their favourite galleries post-lockdown, the sun is rising on London’s dormant art world. And its galleries that are pushing boundaries – not just in their exhibitions and their programmes but in how they work alongside artists that are gaining traction. Galleries like White Cube.

More than a visual showcase, White Cube is a blank canvas for artists to stage a sensory experience. “The gallery offers visitors a chance to escape the everyday and feel they've actually been transported somewhere. They have an opportunity to feel like they're seeing a work of art in a museum rather than in a commercial gallery,” Gallery Sales & Senior Artist Coordinator Jessica Warren explains.

With three permanent sites in London and Hong Kong – each designed by an established architect – White Cube showcases provactive exhibitions by both international rising stars and art legends, including the likes of Tracey Emin and Takis. And the best part? Domus Stay guests can enjoy special access to the exhibitions.

Speaking to us from her art-clad flat in London, Jessica explains how White Cube continues to branches out from other contemporary galleries and what art means to her.

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Julie Curtiss at White Cube Mason's Yard Julie Curtiss at White Cube Mason's Yard

White Cube has grown from one of the smallest exhibition spaces in Europe at the time to an international and influential commercial gallery. Can you share its story with us? 

White Cube was founded by Jay Jopling in 1993, after he saw a need for an artist-led project space in London’s contemporary art scene. Originally, White Cube was a small room located on Duke Street in central London, where artists presented a single important work of art or a coherent body of work within a focused environment. 

The idea of creating something new and of a need for constant regeneration and reflection on which artists were being invited to exhibit is still a part of the gallery ethos. You can see it in the number of new artists and artist estates that White Cube has brought on recently, including Al Held, Takis and Isamu Noguchi, as well as Cinga Samson, Julie Curtiss and Danh Vo

What has been the gallery’s most significant moment to date?

The most significant opening was White Cube’s first permanent gallery outside of the UK, which was White Cube Hong Kong in 2012. 

Right now, White Cube Bermondsey is the largest commercial gallery space in Europe. Stretching more than 58,000 sq ft, White Cube Bermondsey gave German artist Anselm Kiefer the ability to create an immersive, lead-covered installation for his 2016 Walhalla exhibition. He created lead-lined rooms with pools of water and his signature steel and glass vitrines, all lit by a single hanging bulb. You don’t see that very often. 

You’ve got two London locations: White Cube Bermondsey and White Cube Mason’s Yard. Can you tell us about what you’ve got planned this year for each site?

Opening at our Bermondsey gallery on 15th September and running until 7th November will be a major solo exhibition by Ghanian artist Ibrahim Mahama followed by American-British artist Sarah Morris from November until January 2022.

From 17th September until 30th October, Chicago-born multidisciplinary artist Theaster Gates will be at Mason’s Yard and in November, German visual artist Magnus Plessen

We’ll also be presenting works by a selection of artists at Frieze London 2021 in Regents Park from 13th to the 17th of October.

Further afield in 2021 will be exhibitions by Tunji Adeniyi-Jones, David Altmejd, Minoru Nomata, and in 2022 Isamu Noguchi and Cinga Samson

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Takis at White Cube Bermondsey

What is it about art as a medium that is so powerful and moving? What does art mean to you?

Art, for me, is a form of escapism. Art provides an alternative reality that you can enter into and explore. It creates a space for discourse and dialogue and is essentially the only non-governmental commentary on what is happening in the world at any given moment in time. 

Museums and galleries provide platforms for alternative voices and opinions to be heard. They serve as spaces for education and for cultural enrichment where parents can take their children (for free) to learn about the world. I hope that by giving artists these spaces in which to exhibit their work, we allow for visitors to understand that there is more than one path in life, and that not every person sees things the same. Artists show you that it’s OK to be different, to think and learn differently.

What role do you think galleries play in today’s world and why is it important to support them?

We work and represent a lot of artists who are more established but we also look for new and emerging talent – whether that’s through graduate shows or recommendations. Its always our goal to do careful placements with younger artists to make sure you’re not oversaturating the market, to make sure you’re selling to collectors that have good intentions and who are going to respect the artist practice as they grow. We help them in really building relationships with museums – having our artists exhibit with museums is key for both us and them and that's what they rely on us to do.

That kind of support structure is why galleries are important - we offer that ability to build those introductions and those relationships between the public institutions and the collectors who will perhaps donate a piece of work to the museum or support the public arts sector in some way.

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Danh Vo at White Cube Bermondsey

Each gallery is architect-designed. Can you tell us about the unique viewing experience you’re trying to create?

The interior layout of both Bermondsey and Mason’s Yard changes with almost every exhibition. We don't present shows that feel commercially grounded in any way, so you get a much more intimate view of an artist's practice when you enter a world that they've created.

Bermondsey has the most flexibility – due to the scale of the galleries – in terms of changing the exhibition spaces, so visitors often feel like they are visiting a completely different gallery with each show. For example, Colombian artist Doris Salcedo took down all of the dividing walls in our South Galleries for her 2018 solo exhibition, Palimpsest, so that she could cover the entire floor with her large-scale installation of the same title. Her work was composed from hydrolic bricks, which, when installed gave the appearance of a large outdoor forecourt that wept in mourning for migrants who had died trying to escape across the Mediterranean sea. The water droplets, or tears, formed out of each panel and spelled the name of those victims who died crossing the passage. 

What sets you apart?

We’re an artist-led gallery. All our artists have a dedicated, close-knit team – a registrar, a fabricator, a technician, a press liaison. This creates an environment where our artists have close, trusting relationships with their liaisons and with the wider artist teams that look after them.The artists know that no matter where their work is installed, if they can’t be there, there’s someone who knows exactly how it needs to be cared for and how it should be positioned. 

Another thing that sets us apart is that we never say no to an idea. For example, Danh Vo did a show last October 2020 and the whole of White Cube Bermondsey was lit by firelight. We had to install woodburning cast-iron stoves and make new airwaves through the gallery so the exhaust could go out. There were piles of firewood stacked up in the gallery and the invigilators had to constantly tend the fire. When you enter the space you felt like you were entering someone's home and that was totally unique. We’re very open. If Danh Vo wants to light the gallery with fire, lets light it fire. If Anselm wants to cover the walls in lead, let's cover the walls in lead. 

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Cerith Wyn at White Cube Aspen Danh Vo at White Cube Bermondsey

Interested in visiting White Cube? Just let our team know and we can arrange a tour.

@whitecube

whitecube.com

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