White cube’s new building in Bermondsey designed by Casper Mueller Kneer Architects, opened its doors to the public in October 2011. The space was originally a warehouse that was renovated to accommodate a contemporary art gallery’s requirements. However the exhibition spaces are so large that White Cube Bermondsey is currently one of the biggest commercial galleries worldwide. It is almost a small museum.
The architectural synthesis for the new addition to the franchise (this is the third White Cube in London) is very much in tune with the famous 1976 Brian O’Doherty “Inside the white Cube” essay where : ”A gallery is constructed along laws as rigorous as those for building a medieval church. The outside world must not come in, so windows are usually sealed off. Walls are painted white. The ceiling becomes the source of light. The wooden floor is polished so that you click along clinically or carpeted so that you pad soundlessly, resting the feet while the eyes have at the wall. The art is free, as the saying used to go, “to take on its own life. …Unshadowed, white, clean, artificial, the space is devoted to the technology of aesthetics. “
The visitor can catch glimpses of the building walking by the fence which is actually a row of free-standing vertical metallic bars that allow views depending on the angle one looks through them. The geometry of the fence, the Shard in the background and the size of the courtyard, render the approach to the gallery quite dramatic. Especially since the street that it is located at is substantially narrow and densely built. Somehow it does feel as if one is approaching a space of religious piety.
The entrance is marked by a canopy on top of it and a vertical plane on its left, which separates it from the loading bay. These elements have affiliations with modern architecture as has the whole exterior of the building.
The entrance to the gallery is equally dramatic with the very wide corridor right behind the glass door, top lit by a row of neon lights which are reflected on the polished floor. The combination of perspective and the use of lights and building materials give this space an almost hypnotizing theatrical effect. It is as if one entered a dream from a 60’s science fiction film.
The exhibition space is divided by the corridor in two main units. The north galleries on the right for emerging artists and on the left the south galleries and the 9x9x9 room (quite literally a white cube) for the established artists. There is also the shop, a simple austere space and the auditorium which is at the end of the main axis.
The new white cube gallery is an interesting and elegant building that possibly will fulfil its commercial goal which is to provide a prestigious background for priceless works of art to be exhibited and bought by wealthy art collectors.
As for the architectural visitor who comes here mainly to experience the building, the Anselm Kiefer current exhibit is a huge plus as it is somehow deeply architectural. Most paintings depict interior or exterior spaces in a way which resembles architectural drawings. Evidently there is so much more to them than architectural qualities, they resonate with emotion and meaning. Still any architect or architectural enthusiast will appreciate this exhibition because among other things it involves a deeper reading of architectural space.