Exhibition Color

February 2, 2012



“The advantage of white is that is saves the curator from having to choose” ~  Jonathan Jones


Takada Gallery


One of my favorite subjects– how is color best used to complement art?


Smithsonian American Art Museum


I live in a city brimming with art museums and galleries and have written about the brilliant use of color on the walls of The National Portrait Gallery and Museum of American Art in Washington, D.C. The painting of gallery walls is most certainly an intellectual exercise and a subtle art. And the debate over whether or not the use of anything other than a neutral or white paint is simply a distraction… continues on.





MoMA, which set the standard for the display of contemporary art (in the 1930’s the walls were lined with a neutral beige monk’s cloth) recently initiated a repainting effort for a focused installation.  The color chosen was a greyish-beige– Benjamin Moore’s Big Bend Beige.

In an article about the history of MoMA‘s use of color,  Eleonore Hugendubel writes that its “adoption of the white-walled space set a pioneering, if not uncontested, international standard for exhibiting modern and contemporary art, one that to this day, by virtue of its chromatic simplicity, has remained somewhat of a norm. MoMA’s “white cube” galleries have been fertile ground for many critical debates and the subject of several not-so-neutral arguments.”




At the Musee d’Orsay in Paris, walls were recently “coloured” … the Museum noting that ,

“White kills all painting apart from 20th century and contemporary art. When you put an Academic or an Impressionist painting against a white background, the radiance of the white, its indeterminate aura around the work prevents the sometimes very subtle contrasts of values from being revealed.  In [our] view, white is the enemy of painting.”





The Guggenheim in NYC weighes in on the subject:

“Each time the Guggenheim mounts an exhibition it embarks on an elaborate design process to plan the gallery ambiance. Wall color is often used to convey a particular time, place, or culture, and must highlight the works of art without competing with them. The choice of wall color can influence how a museum visitor experiences the artworks, so this process is crucial to the presentation.”








The Guggenheim has recently collaborated with Fine Paints of Europe to offer a curated collection of  50 colors, culled from its exhibition design archives and intended to guide homeowners in the showcasing of art.



And  more examples of palettes chosen by museums abroad… these from Aalto Colour of New Zealand:









For over fifty years, white has been the choice and integral design element of the work of the modernist, Richard Meier (The Getty in LA). Speaking on the subject, he says,

“There is plenty of color, and…  white allows us to appreciate that color. It intensifies our perception of color, and the way that color changes throughout the day the way nature changes.”



The High Museum in Atlanta




My thoughts on the subject?   I simply appreciate that color has become an integral part of the exhibition design process.  That said….. white is a color.



Your thoughts?