The Gallery Show, Part One:|
Christian Kieckens, Architect
During the coming season and simultaneously with the regular exhibition program, a parallel exhibition will be developed. In collaboration with the American artist Joe Scanlan, a series of elements pertaining to the operation of the gallery will be highlighted. Ordinarily these elements are subordinate to the main function of the gallery, which of course is showing art. The idea of this program, however, will be to focus on the physical aspects of the gallery itself, to investigate the practical decisions that cause a particular space to come to be defined as an art gallery, and to research how these decisions effect the art the gallery shows, the visitors it receives, and the traces it leaves. This research will be done in collaboration with artists, designers and, in this first issue, with the architect of the façade, Christian Kieckens.
Jan Mot: When I asked you to conceive the front for the new gallery I was confronting you with the following problem: the new situation required something comparable with the entrance at the old gallery, a buffer zone, so that you wouldn’t enter right away. Yet at the same time I wanted as much natural light in the gallery as possible. Can you reconstruct in short how we operated?
Christian Kieckens: As far as I remember, a couple of ideas were formulated that had in common a zone of slightly over a meter distance, although initially it was mainly situated in the gallery space itself. I didn’t consider direct access desirable either. Anyway, it was obvious that we needed to create a “zone” of a couple of seconds. I would then elaborate that zone with an asymmetrical view, both from the inside and from the outside. I never had the intention to make an esthetic front. The sketches I made during our first conversations showed one or two small walls in the gallery space, as well as an entrance door which didn’t give direct access and which caused the visitor to make a kind of turn … In architectural terms, an “approach”, an in-between space … But as you said yourself, those small walls were good as they closed off the space, yet unfortunately they were blocking the light. So, again, a problem was created by giving a solution… It became clear: as much light as possible, as many possibilities and with doing as little as possible… Hence the large “storefront window” and moving it inward. We had discussed sacrificing that meter and a half of exhibition space, and we had to do it anyway.
JM: It is correct that the result of our discussions is that the façade has become an enormous vitrine and the gallery a viewing box, with a buffer zone of over a meter, yet exactly what I didn’t want initially. It was simply the most logical solution if you didn’t want to cut out the natural light. At first, I was very concerned with the conditions in which a visitor visits the gallery, I had wanted to guarantee their intimacy, the fact that they are looking without being seen, and I wanted that their concentration wouldn’t be disturbed too much by things happening on the street. Meanwhile I have certainly reconciled myself with the openness of the vitrine: I don’t have the impression that concentration is suffering a lot, and the feeling of intimacy has been replaced by a new element of “staging”, something that became apparent in the exhibitions of Tino Sehgal and Dora Garcia. I see the exhibitions more in relation to what is happening outside, and on the other hand, there are, for the first time, reactions from outside. Your luminous idea to incorporate a horizon in the façade had the advantage that I can cover half of it with filters, and hence adapt lighting and transparency. Until now, however, no artist has thought this necessary.
CK: Right, I am surprised as well. But OK, you conceive something and you deliver and after that it is being “taken over” by the user, by the visitor, by the public. Apart from that, this horizontal line may have come about precisely to give a separation, a pause. You see an entire image from inside out and the other way around, and yet, there is one line that somewhat obstructs without disturbing. But the story of the color of the window frame on the inside, white or gray, was much more exciting to me. White implied that the space of the gallery was closed off as one entity, grey meant that the window had more the tendency to disappear in regard to the outside image. I think here again several options are possible. And this is the most exciting thing about the entire space, including the 1,20 meters distance and the window: it is about adapting”, possibly in a different way at each time. It becomes a kind of memory image, however simple. Besides, what is important is what is on view in the space, in your space, not that frame and certainly not me as an architect. Hence the attempt to create a distant image, something that stays as long as possible, that can be interpreted over and over again.
JM: At the time I didn’t ask you to conceive the façade in such a way that the space became instantly recognizable as a gallery space. However, I am curious to what degree you design from typologies. Is that important to you?
CK: Usually it is, but here I wanted to leave behind the familiar stereotypical images of a gallery façade, such as the large glass, the opaque door or garage door. It was of more interest to me how the space could, by means of this vertical, open plane, interact with the city, with urban existence as is the case with cafés and bars. For that reason I considered it necessary to give a “distant”, “neutral” image, something versatile which doesn’t directly stigmatize a so-called “modern” solution, but rather something that looks as if it has always been there. That is how the space became interesting to me, by what would be happening in that space and by the fact that everyone would deal with the space in their own way, without the façade claiming any attention. Dividing it in equal parts is purely pragmatic, a measure sufficient enough to also function as a door, and a horizontal line as a sort of separation between the city and the interior … some kind of voluntary “play”, fragile yet meaningful.
JM: For budgetary reasons the façade was made in glass and wood, not in glass and metal. The result is a façade that possibly looks less modern, but the advantage is that it is much more flexible in terms of color. In the context of “The gallery show” I have asked Joe Scanlan to propose a new color to replace the neutral grey in which it is painted now.
CK: The problem with a non-natural aluminum profile is that it is enameled in advance, therefore the color is fixed for a long time. Wood indeed has the advantage that several options are open and remain so. The neutral grey has more to do with being inconspicuous and allowing the space to speak for itself. Applying another color will demand its own autonomy, it has its own “layer”, it makes that something works or functions in a different way, something from where I would myself reflect from a different angle. It is in fact about a different attitude of dealing with architecture or art. Each supplementary input to the architecture should give an additional content, otherwise it could be about redundance or even gratuity… Until now I have always reasoned as an architect, but it is clear to me that that role is “over”, in the sense that the building has been transferred to the user, others have taken possession. I don’t have problems with an additional layer, as long as it contributes some meaning, as long as it questions something or tells its own story. Thus the architect’s work becomes as it were a base, in this case, a vertical wall, a threshold and a distance of 1,20 m.