Recently, after a visit to the gorgeous Wallraf das museum in Cologne, Germany, I’ve been contemplating the colour of walls in museums and galleries. I’ve come to the decision that museums differ greatly from galleries in this matter, since the display of older works may need a backdrop that is of more relevance to the day and age in which they were created. The wallraf das is exquisite, with painfully rich stenciled walls boasting jewel tones from deep red, to emerald-green, to royal blue and purple (Images of which are featured above).
On that note, the Musee d’Orsay in Paris just underwent a tremendous renovation, spending a whopping 20 million euros, 8 of which went to the reconsideration of its gallery walls. A new gallery for the Impressionist collection included special lighting that emulates sunlight (in which most of the works of that time were conceived) as well as a specially formulated wall colour that can easily be mistaken for a basic light shade of grey. In fact, the wall paint changes (yes, changes) to tints of green-grey (an image of which is featured above) or red-grey, depending on how the light, artificial or actual sunlight, hits the piece. The Parisian architect who was consulted for the project, Jean-Michel Wilmotte, calls “Gris Vivant”, or “Lively Grey”. Of course.
It breaks my heart, this level of loyalty one can display towards artwork. We are eons behind (See: Ancient Egyptian museum). (See also: Museum of Modern Egyptian Art). (Both of which have miserable websites, last updated in 2003 and 2004 respectively. Oh just stab me. With a paintbrush in my heart).
Generally however, I’d say that coloured walls may not work as well for contemporary art galleries, where white allows viewers to digest the work presented. Having said that, the exact tone of white can be endlessly debated, but a loose guide would be to not go too bleachy and stop before you get into the vicinity of cream. A perfect example of white walls are those of the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York (An image of which is featured above).
If however, a contemporary art gallery intends on painting its walls with every exhibition in an attempt to further enhance the viewing experience of the work, then alright. It may not always work, but it might prove to be an interesting, albeit expensive, initiative nevertheless. The latest gallery to open up in Zamalek, aptly called “The Gallery”, had its debut collection of collages on grey walls, and it seemed to work out well for the work. Depending on how their next exhibition will fare, one will discover whether it’s a sustainable colour or just a gimmick to appear different.
Moftah (discussed in the previous post) presented his work at the Palace of Arts (another Egyptian Public museum with wrist-cuttingly awful architecture and an equally horrible website) on an orange wall. It doesn’t work well. I would’ve prefered a white wall, so as to steer it away from the interior decorating feel, which makes the pieces an accessory and not the main focus. The colour is too overpowering and the work is not epic enough, so they fought it out and the wall colour won- a perfect example of how it can go wrong, even with great work (an image of his Moftah with his work at the Palace of Arts is featured above).
So. Even the walls on which Art hangs or set up against deserve a discussion and thorough research. It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it. Let it be me, please.