un l Spoken Spaces: Inside and Outside the Boundaries of Class Race and Space Gibbes Museum of Art
Charleston, South Carolina

The Gibbes Museum's collection primarily consists of 18th and 19th century portraiture and southern themed paintings regarding Charleston and its environs. The building is a Beaux Arts building from 1914 in which African-Americans were not permitted entry until the 1950's.

Ray Huff and Mario Gooden were commissioned to design an architectural installation on the 100th anniversary of the museum to focus on the spring exhibition theme of art and architecture. Knowing that conversations regarding class and race were not taking place in the city the investigation began with pondering how a reading of the collection might reveal how architecture has spatialized (and in some cases been used to reinforce) issues of race and class. Hence eight pairs of works based upon architectural notions of boundaries and spatial conditions such as passage / margin; openness / closeness; shallow / deep were selected to form the content for the exhibition and to see how these terms might not only apply to architecture but also to cultural issues of race and class. It was proposed that exhibit space, the Main Gallery, would be approached as a multi-dimensional landscape in which selected works from the collection are re-contextualized and the boundaries of the space transmogrified and the cultural conditions of these terms would be investigated.

A select group of artists and historians were invited to participate in a 30-day online discussion regarding the pairs of works. The commentary from the online discourse was used in the installation and was instrumental in the mapping and translation of the relationships between the works.

The intention of the spatial design strategy was to situate the paintings within the spatial condition suggested by the representation and to place the viewer in the space of the painting.

A new-sloped floor was constructed on a rubber pad and which did not actually attach itself to the existing structure. Light pockets were constructed in the floor in order to light the works from below as well as from above. Steel fabricated stands were constructed for the paintings in order that they can float in the middle of the space.

Scrims generated from 3-D computer models are fabricated of a poly-knit fabric. Printed on the screens is commentary from the online dialogue along with reproductions of the pairs of works. Not only were the paintings displayed traditionally on the walls but also selected works were rescaled to surreal sizes to blur and erase the boundaries of the gallery.

The completed views of the installation illustrate a landscape of art, digital technology and architecture engaged in critical discourse regarding cultural theory. Architecture is used to instrumentalize the issues which in some cases (in polite society) remain unspoken.