Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Tapping Your Inner Rothko

In the February issue of ARTnews, there's what turned out to be a very entertaining article by Nicole Lanctot about the color galleries and museums choose for their walls. I say "turned out to be..." because I had talked with the author over the course of a few months about this topic and was very impressed with how something seemingly so mundane turned out to be so enjoyable in print (nice work, Nicole). Here's a snippet:

Many shades of the color white would be suitable to paint a gallery wall. "The 'wrong' kind of white isn't likely to ruin many exhibitions," says dealer Edward Winkleman, author of How to Start and Run a Commercial Art Gallery [shameless self-promotion link]. "But there is a subtle psychological effect to every color."

In his previous New York gallery spaces, Winkleman has chosen Benjamin Moore's White Dove, "which has a slight hint of yellow to it and warms up the room nicely," he says. He wanted the ambience of "a pub in England." But he opened his new space, on West 27th Street, in January with the walls painted Super White. "This cooler white connotes a sense of examination," Winkleman says, "like an operating room or interrogation room, which is appropriate for the work in our first show," conceptual photography by Ulrich Gebert [and again!].

Deciding on the shade of white was "a big deal" at ACA Galleries in New York, says Dorian Bergen, co–owner of the gallery. "We mixed the colors ourselves," creating a custom color with a pinkish tone. "White is too white," Bergen points out.

At Haines Gallery in San Francisco, the goal was to paint the walls a white "that allows the attention to be on the work," says Sean Brimer, the gallery's preparator. That white has for many years been Pure Brilliant White by Glidden. "We use a color that's not too bright on its own, because with the sun coming in, it gets really bright," Brimer says.

At Sperone Westwater, it's Benjamin Moore's Decorators White, which the gallery also plans to use at its new downtown Manhattan space, designed by Norman Foster; it opens this spring. But for 2009's Susan Rothenberg show, the gallery walls were repainted in Benjamin Moore's darker November Rain. "It was a matter of trying to create a consistent calm, perhaps even meditative, mood which would suit a number of works," the gallery's co–owner, Angela Westwater, says.

Nicole also delves into how museums are abandoning white for a more complementary "look" for their artwork of a certain age or genre. MoMA's Ann Temkin, for example, noted how they've changed the walls for their permanent collection "from stark white to a grayish putty color, Benjamin Moore's Big Bend Beige."

It's hard when talking about how much thought goes into what color to paint the walls that art hangs on not to think of Mark Rothko:
His preoccupation with the conditions under which his works would be seen extended beyond the material circumstances of hanging, lighting, wall color, etc. For Rothko, the response to a work of art by an observer was an intellectual and moral, as well as a merely visual, transaction; therefore, circumstances that did not promote the reception of the work's inner meaning were no less unacceptable than those affecting its external appearance.
With that degree of attention to the viewing experience in mind, I wanted to try a quiz... It might be more work that anyone would find time to complete, but most of the Eastern seaboard is off work for the blizzard, so perhaps it's a good day to challenge you to tap your inner Rothko. Choose a work of your own art that you can direct us to on a website (or, if you're not an artist, someone else's work, in a museum on the site of an artist you like) and defend your preference for the color you'd paint the wall if you were to install that work in a gallery (or your home).

Labels: art quiz, art viewing


Blogger nathaniel said...

If in a home, <a href=">this</a> belongs - floating - on a red wall. A burgundy-ish color, I think. With a lime-washed wood frame behind a white matte. The video needs to pop...

2/10/2010 10:47:00 AM  
Blogger nathaniel said...

ps (not that my last comment was published yet), but the red offsets the cool blue of the sea, and also should feel like BLOOD!!! (insert maniacal laughter here)

2/10/2010 10:49:00 AM  
Anonymous Larry said...

Excellent topic. These things really do matter when you're thinking of buying a piece to hang on your walls. Gallery walls are usually some kind of white, but home walls can be painted in various colors. My living room is painted in Benjamin Moore Golden Chenille 1116 and my bedroom in B.M. Moccasin 1059 (which is a light tan that fortunately does not smell of feet). The hallway is painted in B.M. Mexicana 2172-30, which is a dark red, and my dining room in B.M. Sienna Clay 104, a dark orange-brown.

I like putting subdued work in the bedroom. For example, the bleak East Sussex landscapes I have by British artist Natasha Newton look very well against moccasin - but they are also good for the moment in the living room, where I have two hanging above the upright piano.

For the Shane Hope I am thinking of buying, it will go in the living room against the Golden Chenille - because with all those riotous colors, a relatively quiet background would be most suitable.

I have two of Eric Fertman's quirkly, Philip Guston-like Nine Lumps purchased from Susan Inglett, and because they are more upbeat and are b+w with white frames, they look great against the Mexicana.

Right now in my dining room I have a framed reproduction of Klee's Oriental Feast, where the orange of the print harmonizes with the orange tone of the wall.

It took a lot of trial and error to come up with that Sienna Clay color, BTW, and the way I finally got it right was to inspect the red-green-blue values for several colors using the computer. Sienna Clay was a color that came midway in RGB specs between the Golden Chenille and Mexicana.

Hope it's ok to incorporate these links.

2/10/2010 11:07:00 AM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

I worked in a Mautz paint store (an excellent regional brand with national accounts) for a decade, matching colors and sheens by eye. Regardless of the work to be hung, an off-white with a slight warm tint works best. Anything else - including the extreme brightness of a pure white - competes with the work. The formula for a slightly warm off-white, if you want to know, is one drop (1/64 oz.) of yellow ochre (or equivalent) and one drop of burnt umber (or equivalent) to a gallon of pure white.

MoMA's Big Bend Beige will look dated in a decade or less.

2/10/2010 11:09:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

It's totally ok to include those links, Larry...helps us visualize what you mean.

Nice choices!


Nathaniel...I'm lost for words :-)

2/10/2010 11:54:00 AM  
Anonymous Larry said...

Tom writes: "Regardless of the work to be hung, an off-white with a slight warm tint works best. Anything else - including the extreme brightness of a pure white - competes with the work."

As can be surmised, I don't quite agree. I don't know when MoMA changed its colors to "gray putty," but I think of the wall colors in the (new) MoMA as white, which is OK. But I also like the darker colors used on some of the walls at the Met, especially the reddish burnt sienna in some of the galleries. I think of the color of the wall as an extension of the frame, and whether dark or light, it can enhance the artwork. (In some of the galleries the Met now uses a liverish color that I on the other hand find pretty ugly.)

2/10/2010 12:07:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

I would prefer a brick wall, or wood wall, anything that looks "homey". I even prefer concrete cement over painting, but, ultimately, it wouldn't matter at all.

It would matter much more the amount of light that enters the space or not, but I would attempt to control that aspect.

Cedric C

PS: museum shows I've seen recently had very flamboyant choices for wall color.

2/10/2010 12:28:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

I would be the kind to enter my dealer's gallery with a huge roll
of wallpaper, and the dealer would think:

"Oh no...Oh nooo... OOHH nooo.... OH NO!!!"

Cedric C

2/10/2010 12:35:00 PM  
Anonymous Morgan Russell said...

I had this painting in a group show at the Chelsea Art Museum's Project Room for New Media last June, where the walls were painted black. It actually kind of popped in an interesting way. I also taped the edges of the canvas with a silver foil tape, which threw this cool glow on the walls.

Thanks for letting us share,

2/10/2010 12:51:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

For the sake of my sanity, I decided that my job was the inside of the rectangle. What went on beyond it was not my concern. Although I had to swallow hard once when my mother put a painting I gave her into a frame of gold-painted imitation bamboo.

2/10/2010 12:51:00 PM  
Anonymous Charles Browning said...

I mostly agree with Franklin about responsibility, but I also feel the work, or it's influence, definitely extends beyond the obvious edge.

I've fantasized about a warm gray or dark green wall for some of my pieces. We'll see what Lisa and Sara Jo will go for next time! :)

On framing: I read an article somewhere about a collector going with John Currin to select a hand-carved frame for a painting that was going to cost more than the painting itself.

2/10/2010 01:12:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

Larry, I agree that wall colors in homes are a different story. Homes aren't primarily about displaying art to best advantage. Unless you sell your own work out of your living room. ;-)

2/10/2010 01:13:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My paintings are mostly white with subtle gradations of color and line so surrounding color and pattern can really detract. I like Pratt and Lambert's Silver Lining. Its not stark white but is very neutral. I'll not post a link because that would destroy my mythical privacy (look Joy, I'm a unicorn).

I remember a sapphire blue wall color at the Prado really showing off 19th century Spanish portrait paintings.


2/10/2010 01:50:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

SFMOMA has the perfect shade of light grey-purple on the walls of the photo galleries right now. Since almost all of the photos are B&W, it really lends a quiet, contemplative feel without being overwhelming. White---even a warmer white---would have been too harsh with the overhead lighting.

I've also seen the Asian Art Museum (in SF) use color in the galleries to great effect. It really evokes a mood and makes the work pop.

2/10/2010 03:13:00 PM  
Anonymous Linda Hutchins said...

I once lost a sale because an artwork - similar to - disappeared against the color of the patron's walls. The work is translucent and depends on light reflecting through it from the wall behind. It's fine on many variations of white, but not on taupe. Incorporating this lesson, my recent work is more adaptable. A darker ground shows off the translucency - - while a lighter ground shows off the shadows - A shadow box or vitrine would give me more control over this, but takes away some of the intimacy.

2/10/2010 03:18:00 PM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

Thanks for this thread, Ed.

In 2006 I had a solo show in which one painting was placed on a gray/brown wall. I had my doubts at first, but it worked. Here's the link to a blog post I made just now to show you the image and my comment about it:

By the way, it's ironic that Rothko, who was so preoccupied with color, used house paint that has changed in ways that painters pigments never would have.

2/10/2010 03:56:00 PM  
Anonymous Julian said...

I heard the whites in galleries, 20 -30 years ago, were to help make the space feel bigger than they were, or feel like they had higher ceilings and take your eyes off the cruddy floors many of them had. I don't know all the whites or own the tome de Robert Ryman but many galleries had a refrigerator white that evolved into what many galleries use today like super white. The matching and choosing of wall whites is as annoying as choosing the whites and paper type for a business card. Puke! Many chic galleries have used greys but that can become a problem when you decide to change to a lighter or cooler color because it's costs more and take longer to cover up.
The science of color includes facts that if your colors have warmer tints they feel closer (smaller space) and cooler tints make space feel larger. But in a white room it can sometimes seem to make little to no difference and only effects how bright the space feels.
I've also noticed photo galleries and some museums use dim or filtered light I assume so you don't feel snow blind or cause refraction off the frame glass or photo sheen.

There are projector paint that make a space that has a video projection appear more HD or sharper. But this can really only be discerned by someone with a sharp eye to match.

2/10/2010 04:06:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really like the way James McGarrell solved the problem.


2/10/2010 04:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Julian said...

Taking into account that use of white walls should match that most painters use white primers and gesso. When painters try to penetrate the surface of something using paint it directly comes into a dialog or discourse with the wall on which it is hung and therefor the wall color, artist and/or gallery are accountable. Drawing however can sit on the surface and doesn't usually penetrate the surface the way paint does more naturally. Here is my example of this point.

Painters try to reach a finished piece, covering up their drawing (pentimento) and creating a sort of illusion.

One more side point I enjoy is how laptops now auto-adjust the screen brightness to compensate the room light in which they are being viewed. Though they are never right because our eyes are all different, some of us more myopic than others of course.

2/10/2010 04:21:00 PM  
Anonymous mattf said...

These dysfunctional siege engines are supposed to stumble and creak across a whitewashed landscape. Glidden high-hiding flat does quite well - basically anything cheap, drippy, and a little bit clotted will work.

2/10/2010 05:39:00 PM  
Anonymous Noah N Nipperus said...


I would prefer a black wall for this piece:

This triptych (which is also a tetraptych and pentaptych depending on how it is viewed) requires a viewing technique borrowed from Stereo photography. As such, minimal distraction from the background (the painting is predominately black to begin with) makes it easier for the novice viewer to use the technique. Also, you can't beat gold leaf against a black backround...except maybe a red backround...

Thanks for the quiz!

2/10/2010 09:24:00 PM  
Anonymous Noah N Nipperus said...


Thank you for accepting my post Mr. Winkleman. My Professor recommended your blog to me and thus far I have thoroughly enjoyed your writing (I'm more than half way through January now...)

Thanks again!

2/10/2010 11:39:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A good friend directed me to your blog and so I have been following along for a bit. I was smiling as I read the discussion about wall colors. Having spent almost 15 years at a museum as a curator, I think I have seen and selected more shades of Benjamin Moore white than I could number. Also having installed Rothko's, as well as Reinhardt's paintings, I have found that the wall color selection is affected by and integral to lighting and installation (heights, spacing, etc.) choices and that all factors must be in concert to effectively create a positive and educational viewer experience while staying true to what research indicates was the artist's intent.

2/11/2010 03:07:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I quite like a pissy kind of tint for my shit.

2/11/2010 05:20:00 PM  
Blogger John Holdway said...

Three Oranges is 48"x48". I would like to see it on a warm gray around 20%-30%.

Light is the first issue. Lights are pretty sophisticated and easily available. It is with in reach to get nice white light in any space. Perhaps it was not possible in previous generations. Now wall color is primarily an aesthetic choice and does not need to work to counteract bad lighting situations. Galleries should have nice lighting. A neutral color would emphasize the work. I agree that white is too bright but if it ends up in a small room a lighter color would be better.

2/11/2010 07:57:00 PM  
Blogger Kate said...

I dream of being able to show may paintings in a deep red or deep midnight blue environment, with low ambient light. I use oil glazes which make the paintings glow in the light areas, and a dark background really emphasizes this. They are rarely shown in anything approximating this ideal environment.

2/11/2010 11:45:00 PM  
Blogger Ellen said...

I'm working on a series of drawings of Oriental bittersweet. The shapes are, as you would expect, organic and sinuous, and are carefully situated on the picture plane. The subjects are presented formally with an emphatic nod to traditional botanic art yet with a narrative expression. All drawings are on Fabriano Artistico hot press paper, floated on cream to light tan mats and framed in natural cherry.
All of the exhibition venues in which these drawings have been shown provided white or light cream walls (think Benjamin Moore's Linen White); a bit too stark with no interaction between the artwork and the space.
My preference would be for pale gray-blue walls which would pop the warm-toned cherry frames forward and of course advance the drawings even more so. I also prefer the warmer light of a room with southern or western exposure.
I'm dismayed by the saturated colors used by many museums and galleries. The walls themselves compete for attention with the art which then may appear mediocre or, worse yet, melt into the background. There should be a balance between the "shout" of saturation and the "whisper" of chromatic grays.
That said, I believe the most successful exhibitions have an element of contrast and unexpected juxtaposition without abandoning the element of mutual support.
I once declined exhibiting in a gallery which was enamored of its boldly busy craftsman style wallpaper and complimentary high chroma trim. There was absolutely no way that my work would have survived.
And don't forget lighting!

2/12/2010 09:55:00 AM  
Blogger Tina Mammoser said...

Most of the time I like a soft white, and most of my galleries do this. I do agree with John about lighting actually being as important as the colour. The more poorly lit a space (and in some it's unavoidable) the more you need white/light walls to help reflect the light around as much as possible.

But I also have a secret desire to exhibit my paintings on Victorian wallpaper. :) This is a bit late, but I was unwell last week:

Thanks for the inspiration!

2/16/2010 05:52:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very unique topic. Different content for reading.

9/12/2011 07:37:00 AM  

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