Tuesday, 19 October 2021

Drawing as a vehicle for sexual politics


Jacky Fleming

The jury of the Artémisia prize for female comics awarded the 2017 Humour Prize to Jacky Fleming for her book 'The problem with women'. Jacky lives and works in Leeds and has been making political cartoons centred on the role of women in society since the 1970s. She is still working which is a sign that many of the issues she found herself having to confront are still there.
Although the cartoon remains a potent medium for engaging with politics, the tradition of the political poster is perhaps the most iconic.


In 1989 300,000 people protested in Washington to defend the federal right to abortion, something that seems both long ago and just yesterday. However, one artwork designed for that rally 'Your body is a Battleground' is still remembered and used. The ideal of symmetrical female beauty and the underlying angst of this constantly being turned into an excuse to treat women as objects, allowed Kruger, who started in the 1960s as a graphic designer for Condé Nast magazines, to use collage techniques to shake up the way images and words were usually received within a fine art context and place them firmly out in the world of street imagery.

In 2017 Liv Strömquist exhibited her work in the Stockholm metro. Her series of enlarged felt tip drawings included an ice skater, who spoke with an urgency that was at the same time a cover up, 'It's alright, I'm only bleeding', a phrase that echoed one sung a generation before by Bob Dylan, 'It's alright ma, I'm only bleeding', but now a young woman had stepped into the spotlight and she was bleeding too. 



Liv Strömquist

Liv Strömquist's subway work was vandalised and there was an outcry and a following debate about whether issues such as menstruation were suitable subjects for public art. Her no nonsense black and white imagery, with blunt text is clearly designed, like Kruger's posters, to operate in a media dense world and they therefore use graphic conventions that will stand out clearly against surrounding competing imagery. 

Suzanne Lacy has used several drawing conventions in her various approaches to raising awareness of sexual politics. From diaristic notes to the use of maps to track occurrences of rape, as well as marking the streets; Lacy has used drawing in its many forms to directly engage the public in her awareness raising campaigns. 





Suzanne Lacy 

Suzanne Lacy has a 'social art practice' and is often engaged in collaboration and community organisation, as ways to raise awareness about women's personal and political issues such as rape, domestic violence, ageing, media representation and invisibility within the workplace. As she says, "I tend to see activism as a human endeavour that goes along with citizenship. You can be an activist as a doctor, you can be activist as a psychotherapist, and you can be activist as an artist."

Juliana Huxtable

Juliana Huxtable is an example of a much more contemporary approach to gender issues. Huxtable operates using the idea of a 'glitch' or space in which an individual can play out their own lives without having to face constant criticism or having to negotiate a space for their own sexual or racial identity. This idea is a powerful one that uses the internet as a space within which to find a place for the personal celebration of people for what they are. 

Tom of Finland

At the time of their creation, and early acceptance in the 1950s and 60s Tom of Finland’s erotic drawings of finely muscled men were radical. Touko Laaksonen’s gay erotic art that focused on muscular young hunks was unashamedly sexual, without being menacing. This was perhaps the secret ingredient of an art form that had a lasting impression; its 'safe' nature, meant that it could be consumed much more comfortably than other openly gay artwork. In fact the Tom of Finland Foundation has championed Laaksonen’s work so effectively that it’s now exhibited in the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angles. The fact that these renowned art museums are now showing his work, demonstrating that gay art is no longer outside of the accepted pantheon of good taste. His influential drawings of men in leather and biker outfits eventually became a look that Freddie Mercury and Frankie Goes to Hollywood adopted and brought into the mainstream, along with the Village People and the popular 'YMCA' video, with its gay stereotypes that were taken up by the media, much to the dismay of many members of the gay community, because the media's constructions offered up to the general public images of gay sexuality that were far from the truth. Tom of Finland's position as on the one hand an early visualiser of male gay sexuality and on the other as a maker of gay stereotypes is fascinating as it echoes Hegel's master/slave dialectic but shifts it into a more ambivalent territory, where the master/slave image becomes sexualised as well as politicalised. We must not forget that it was only in 1967 that the Sexual Offences Bill was passed in England, a bill that decriminalised homosexual acts between two men over 21 years of age in private, but it did not extend to Scotland, Northern Ireland or the Channel Islands where all homosexual behaviour remained illegal. The privacy restrictions of the act meant a third person could not be present and men could not have sex in a hotel and these restrictions were not overturned until the European Court of Human Rights did so in the year 2000. The celebration of one's sexuality will always be seen as political if that sexuality is seen as outside of what the mainstream population see as a norm and the establishment of norms is often at the centre of how governments operate, as they seek to establish set and predictable rules of behaviour. 

Keith Haring

It was the AIDs virus that raised the profile of sexual politics in the still male centred art world. Keith Haring’s HIV diagnosis in 1987 reminded us all of how HIV and AIDs had become synonymous with fear, stigma and death; effecting gay communities across America and the world and leading to a media stereotype that threatened to stigmatise the gay community for ever. In 1987 Haring noticed trouble with his breathing and found a purple splotch on his leg; he was soon diagnosed as being HIV positive; however instead of hiding the fact, Haring chose to confront the disease head on. 

Keith Haring

David Hockney's drawings of his friends had a more subtle, but perhaps even more far reaching effect on attitudes to gay sexual politics. 

David Hockney: Two boys aged 23 or 24: 1966

The year 1966 was a full year before the Sexual Offences Bill was passed in England. It was still illegal for people to have same sex relationships, but here was Hockney openly portraying the everyday nature of such relationships. However by portraying these relationships as 'normal', Hockney in many ways was able to help with the normalisation of homosexuality within the wider society and as a media art star, his lifestyle, like so many media figures, became as much the subject of interest as his work. If it was ok for a successful artist to be gay, then perhaps this wasn't the awful, fearful end of civilisation that the Nationwide Festival of Light proposed, a late 1960s organisation led by Malcolm Muggeridge, Cliff Richard and Mary Whitehouse and which was fighting a losing battle against what was seen as the erosion of civilised values. Sometimes political statements are quiet, but that doesn't mean they are not effective. 
In the late 60s I entered art college, much to the dismay of many in my family, who had been listening to Muggeridge pontificating on the TV. It is hard now to remember how vitriolic he was and how much time and space the media gave him. In particular he directed the public's gaze onto what he saw as the role of education, and in particular places such as art colleges that he thought of as the centre of left wing revolutionary behaviour. This quote is typical of what he had to say at the time;

“So the final conclusion would surely be that whereas other civilizations have been brought down by attacks of barbarians from without, ours had the unique distinction of training its own destroyers at its own educational institutions, and then providing them with facilities for propagating their destructive ideology far and wide, all at the public expense."

On hearing of my move to art college, one of my uncles, I clearly remember at the time, wondered if I had become a satanist, and brought to all the family's attention what Muggeridge was preaching. Just to go to art college at that time was a political statement. 

Christina Quarles is a queer, cis-woman, born to a black father and a white mother, as she states, "I engage with the world from a position that is multiply situated.” Her drawings and paintings are informed by the ambiguity surrounding public perception and interpretation of her physical appearance, as well as by wider questions around personal identity as manifold and fluid.
Christina Quarles

Nadine Faraj 

The work of Nadine Faraj uses watercolour's ability to suggest one form flowing into another to depict sexual fluidity. Her images of women have a joyful 'I'm here' sort of vibe, that demonstrates that you don't need to be po-faced when dealing with sexual politics. Ambera Wellmann, is another artist working in a similar territory that also uses biomorphic ambiguity as a metaphor for sexual fluidity. Her images ranging from the almost abstract, to the depiction of sexual excitement as lovers conjoin. She is also happy to bring together various different materials into her drawings, the one immediately below mixing charcoal, pastel and oil paint, which in its own way metaphorically suggests a fusion and hybridity.


Ambera Wellmann

More recent art dealing with gender fluidity has, perhaps because of the hybrid nature of the subject matter, been carried in art forms at one time thought of as marginal but which are becoming more and more accepted as fine art practice, including narrative formats such as the graphic novel. 

The Chosen One: KannelArt

DeviantArt is perhaps the biggest art community in the world and this is where you will find many of the artists dealing with contemporary issues surrounding gender fluidity. 'The Chosen One' takes the traditional Superman myth and subverts it, the powerful male ideal of the superhero, turned on its head, using the conventions of a media normally associated with teenage boys. In a few panels, the artist behind KannelArt, has unpicked a deeply engrained male mythology and shown us an alternative, shape shifting superpower. What is perhaps the most interesting issue here is the rise of platforms like DeviantArt, which I believe foreshadow the eventual death of the old art market and the rise of more democratic art forms. Things have changed a lot since my old tutor at art college caught me drawing a comic strip and took the piss out of me for being such a 'silly boy'. An awareness of audience is not just the preserve of graphic designers and illustrators, it would seem to me to be fundamental to any form of communication, and if fine art is to maintain any form of relevance to society it will have to continue to evolve and embrace the many and various forms that contemporary visual communication is made in. 

The latest DC comics iteration of Superman is bisexual

An art form's ability to tackle political issues is often straightjacketed by a combination of conservatism, aesthetics and funding. On the one hand formalist aesthetic theories state that art should not be didactic, and on the other several of our main art institutions are heavily reliant on industry sponsorship and they worry about being seen to support left wing political views. In an article for ArtForum (APRIL 1967, VOL. 5, NO. 8Barbara Rose stated that 'works of didactic art are... illustrations of theoretical esthetic positions condensed into a single object, which stands for the entire argument. They represent abstract ideas made concrete in works of art. Their value is relative to the cogency, clarity and originality of the argument they illustrate'. She also states, 'For this reason, formalist criticism, which places value only within the specific object, dismisses didactic art because its content is extra-visual.' We have moved on since then, but there are still pockets of the art world that would like to hold on to a belief in a certain purity and moral aloofness, that would take art into a space outside of the messiness of the everyday world and elevate it beyond worldly things, so that it can accrue a particular type of value, a value that can then be traded as an investment. Both gold and art within the investment world, holding their value because of notions of purity.    

References

Preciado, P (2021) Can the Monster Speak? Report to an Academy of Psychoanalysts Barcelona: Fitzcarraldo Editions  An excellent account of how fluid gender politics feels to an individual faced with rigid patriarchal organisations. 

Baker, E & Hess, T (1973) Art and Sexual Politics: Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists? New York Macmillan  A classic text that introduced Feminist ideas into mainstream art discourse. The book consists of revised essays which originally appeared in ARTnews, v.69, no. 9, Jan. 1971, and it includes Linda Nochlin's essay, "Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?"

Collins, P. H. (2015) Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment London: Routledge

Jones, A & Silver, E (2015) Otherwise: Imagining Queer Feminist Art Histories (Rethinking Art's Histories) Manchester: Manchester University Press


Baker, R (1994) The Art of AIDs: From Stigma to Conscience New York: Continuum

Perry, G (Ed) (1999) Gender and Art New Haven: Yale University Press

Russel, L (2020) Glitch Feminism: A Manifesto London: Verso

Tuesday, 12 October 2021

Drawing for site specific proposals: Part three

Christo and Jeanne-Claude. Drawing for L’Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped 


The Smack Mellon gallery in New York is interested in site specific proposals that consider the unusual architecture of the gallery space. These proposals can be considered for any show at Smack Mellon and perhaps most interestingly for readers of this blog, only artists who do not have commercial gallery representation in New York will be considered.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ability of the gallery to continue doing this is threatened, but their guidelines for proposals still exist, and it is useful to go through them if you are ever thinking of putting a proposal together for this gallery or any other site. 

Smack Mellon guidelines for site specific proposals

1. Work Samples
Six (6) images and/or three (3) videos that are representative of your artistic career. Images should be saved as .jpeg or .tiff.  Videos should be no longer than 3 minutes each and cued to the appropriate segment for the panel to review. Please number each work sample file to correspond to the work sample list.

Nb. Photographing and videoing your work is standard practice now and work needs to be composed and shot very carefully in order to communicate the best of your practice. The need to cue the video up is because they will have lots to look at and cant spend time scrolling through looking for best bits. (Something to remember when submitting work for assessment too)

2. Work Sample List
Numbers on the work sample list should correspond with the numbers in the work sample file names.
For Images: Include the title, date, medium, dimensions, and a brief description of the work (less than 100 words). For Video: Include title, date, duration, and a brief description of the work (less than 100 words).

Do remember to do this. Most residences, gallery proposals etc. stipulate how they want files to be named. 

3. Resume
Please include your name, address, phone number, and email address along with exhibition and educational background. Artists must not be represented by a commercial gallery in New York.

4. Artists’ Statement
In 250 words or less, write a statement about your work in general and your process.

You can get lots of advice on artist's statements, e.g. this one from the Artist's League. However the specific request here is to include 'process'. How do you go about making art in response to considerations about site specificity. This is a general statement about your process and is different to 'The Site Specific Statement', which is set out at point 5 below.

5. Site-Specific Statement with a description of the proposed work and an explanation of the idea and how it relates to the space. You may submit a proposal for either Gallery One (the large space) or Gallery Two (the smaller space). Your proposed project cannot take up both spaces.

Remember the physical location and surroundings of a proposed artwork are inseparable from its meaning. This might also include the historical significance of the site or past changes of use. You will need to show how this different context could change (and hopefully enrich) the experience of your artwork. 

6. A Drawing of the proposed project. Please include a sketch or rendering showing how the proposed work will look in the space (in either Gallery One or Gallery Two).

This aspect is obviously why I'm putting this drawing blog post up. It would therefore be useful to follow the links to earlier posts on drawing for site specific proposals. Two types of drawing are usually made, those that show the audience what they are going to get, usually perspectives or isometric projections, done either by hand or using computer drawing programs and drawings that highlight the relationship between the proposed work and its surroundings, in this case they ask for a map, see point 7. 

7. A Map of the space marking where your project would ideally be placed. (The gallery provides a link for this) 

Artists involved in exhibitions are responsible for the execution and installation of their own artwork. Artists should understand that they are responsible for delivering their work to the gallery, installing and de-installing their work. Smack Mellon does not have a full time staff of preparators. Smack Mellon staff can assist in installation of work requiring a bucket lift or special mounting, when arranged in advance. Our staff may also assist artists with installation of other complicated projects but will not be involved in helping the artist to build their work on site.

Specifics about the installation of artwork, the equipment and resources that Smack Mellon is able to provide will be discussed after the initial proposal has been reviewed and accepted as a proposal under consideration.

The issues surrounding amount of help and support are also vital. You need to find these things out before you put together your proposal. In this case because they do not offer support, you would need to reassure the gallery in the way you wrote the proposal that everything is actually 'doable'. 

Katayoun Pasban Dowlatshahi: Proposal for Bacup

It is important to remember that not all project proposals for public siting are realised. For instance, the artist Katayoun Pasban Dowlatshahi was commissioned to create a new, permanent artwork in collaboration with the local authority engineers for the culvert area of the River Irwell, Bacup in Lancashire. She proposed a design that brought the river back as a central focus to the town, unfortunately despite local and County support, and with additional funding from Arts Council England, this project did not materialise. However one of the other uses for site specific visualisations is to build up your cv, because each project attempted builds up skills in negotiation, problem solving and inventive realisation, all of which are embedded into the visualisations made, even though the project might itself not be realised. 

Nike Savvas: Proposal for the Royal Children's Hospital Melbourne 


Brook Andrew: Local Memory

The images for Brook Andrew's 'Local Memory' and Nike Savvas's 'Proposal for the Royal Children's Hospital Melbourne' like Dowlatshahi use computer software to visualise how their ideas will work. In Brook Andrew's case the visualisation shows how 18 portraits of people who have lived, worked and witnessed change in the brewery since it opened in 1909. will be illuminated with neon frames. Photoshopped images such as Brook Andrew's are probably the most common visualisation process, but if you compare the Photoshopped images with those drawn by Christo and Jeanne-Claude using conventional drawing materials, you can see why Christo and Jeanne-Claude were able to embed the drawing and visualisation process into the fund raising process. Their proposal drawings (they worked as a team, and although it was Christo that made the drawings, it was a deeply collaborative venture, some aspects of which he could do better and others she could handle because of her different skill set) are made to be exhibited in their own right and to be collectable. These drawings work as unique art objects that some people would pay a lot of money for. Most artist's proposal drawings go in a file and are never seen again after the project is realised. 


There is a new book out by TASCHEN that documents and details the history behind the posthumous installation of 'L’Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped' that gathers together photography and drawings made over many years and which in particular explains how Christo and Jeanne-Claude developed a process for major site specific projects that included visualisation drawings at its core. 




Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Drawings for both realised and unrealised projects
















 

Tuesday, 5 October 2021

Reflections on the Salon Hang

Being hung by the salon

It has been said that to hang a picture is to kill it. By that it was meant that to hang it up on a wall was a sign it was finished and therefore 'over' as a living thing. However there are some other connotations. But first I think we need a reminder of the reality of hanging. This is what George Orwell had to say about it. 

“It is curious, but till that moment I had never realised what it means to destroy a healthy, conscious man. When I saw the prisoner step aside to avoid the puddle I saw the mystery, the unspeakable wrongness, of cutting a life short when it is in full tide. This man was not dying, he was alive just as we are alive. All the organs of his body were working—bowels digesting food, skin renewing itself, nails growing, tissues forming—all toiling away in solemn foolery. His nails would still be growing when he stood on the drop, when he was falling through the air with a tenth of a second to live. His eyes saw the yellow gravel and the grey walls, and his brain still remembered, foresaw, reasoned—even about puddles. He and we were a party of men walking together, seeing, hearing, feeling, understanding the same world; and in two minutes, with a sudden snap, one of us would be gone—one mind less, one world less.” 

To remove a mind from the world is an awful thing, the hangman's knot or noose used to be called the Jack Ketch knot. Named after a man who presided over botched executions, eventually Jack Ketch became a proverbial name for death. 

Art galleries have been described as mausoleums. One being a building for dead people, the other being a building to house dead peoples’ art. This is a terrible indictment which is also why I wanted to be reminded of the reality of hanging by George Orwell. If art is to be an alive and living thing, then we have to take its presentation seriously. If it is on entry into a gallery made a dead thing and a lifeless corpse how is it useful? I am trying to be provocative and still exhibit my own work in gallery spaces, but by asking the question I can perhaps unsettle some lazy ways of thinking.

Perhaps an artwork changes its use value once it has been 'finished'. As an externalised thought it might help the artist in one way and the audience in another. If you think about a very different artist, one that rarely even gets thought of as an artist, we can see a much clearer relationship between artist and audience. Imagine an artist designing souvenirs, let's say a ceramic dog or frog. First of all they would have to come up with an idea that could be slip-cast easily with not too many joints, preferably two halves as this would be the easiest to mass produce. They would have to deal with 'form follows function' and think carefully about their audience. Their creature probably would have 'soft' rounded features, (see this earlier post on Disney) so that a potential buyer would be sentimentally attracted to it, it may be made to smile and its surface smoothed out so that it feels 'nice' to the touch. These are a lot of considerations for the artist to think about and they are issues that are all about 'feelings'. Like most artists several versions will probably be produced and unlike most artists, these versions will probably be viewed by another person who's sole responsibility will be to assess whether or not someone will be prepared to buy this small sculpture. It is interesting that I had to think about whether or not to use the word sculpture in this case. Why? I suppose its because of another word, 'kitsch', or art considered to be in poor taste because of excessive garishness or sentimentality, often associated with lower class taste. Hmmm. 
This is what Greenberg had to say about it:
Kitsch, using for raw material the debased and academicized simulacra of genuine culture, welcomes and cultivates insensibility. It is the source of its profits. Kitsch is mechanical and operates by formulas. Kitsch is vicarious experience and faked sensations. Kitsch changes according to style, but remains always the same. Kitsch is the epitome of all that is spurious in the life of our times. Kitsch pretends to demand nothing of its customers except their money-not even their time. The precondition for kitsch, a condition without which kitsch would be impossible, is the availability close at hand of a fully matured cultural tradition, whose discoveries, acquisitions, and perfected self-consciousness kitsch can take advantage of for its own ends. It borrows from it devices, tricks, stratagems, rules of thumb, themes, converts them into a system, and discards the rest. It draws its life blood, so to speak, from this reservoir of accumulated experience. 
So we have genuine culture described as something that stands aside from 'faked sensations'. The artist sculpting the small dog or frog, is yes hoping that someone will look at the object and immediately 'feel' something when they see it. But what is wrong with this? The artist in this case is using a knowledge of shape and form and an awareness of formal association (big eyes make something feel like a baby etc.) to make a sculpture that will become generally available in gift shops throughout the country. There will therefore be no 'rarity' value, this art is 'as cheap as chips' but is this not a good thing? The work is made available to all and at a price that doesn't deter anyone from a purchase. 

Kitsch sentiment

Kitsch display

I'm sure the artist that designed the little dog and frog sculpture knew what he or she was doing and they were probably paid to produce ideas for these things by the hour and as soon as they were done the object would passed into the hands of the manufacturer, who would be mainly concerned with reproduction and then distribution. The display above is a 'sales' display, designed to look as if you are in an Aladdin's cave of delights; it is constructed to make you feel as if there must be something for everyone here. 

Originating in 17th century France
 the Salon de Paris was the only major art exhibition in France, and it exerted a massive  influence on the career prospects of artists. Commercial galleries were very limited, so being shown at the Salon was critical to an artist’s success, as Salon exhibitions were  visited by serious art collectors, dealers, curators and patrons as well as thousands of ticket-bearing visitors.  Artists whose work was displayed at the Salon won prizes, gained commissions, and enhanced their prestige.
The Salon was an annual juried art show conducted by the the Académie des Beaux-Arts (which also ran schools of art instruction). The standards of the juries represented the values of the Académie. However, Greenberg in his essay on kitsch states;

'All kitsch is academic; and conversely, all that's academic is kitsch. For what is called the academic as such no longer has an independent existence, but has become the stuffed-shirt "front" for kitsch.'

So if the academic is kitsch, according to Greenberg, Kitsch is also academic. By 1820 the Salon was staged in large commercial halls, packed floor-to-ceiling with paintings hung in rows, this 'salon hang' is also constructed to make the audience feel as if there must be something for everyone. The work is put on display in the same way as you would in any goods market. 

The annual exhibition of the Académie 

The paintings and sculptures were of historical subjects, religious themes and portraits, whilst  landscapes and still lives were seen as lower down the artistic pecking order. Although this was art for the upper classes its presentation was again rather like an Aladdin's cave of delights. The artists were working to the dictates of the time, their work following the rules as set out by the Académie des Beaux-Arts. Classical subject matter was used to permit nudity, heroes were depicted as a celebration of Classical learning but with a good story attached; fantasy and religious subjects could also cater for sentimentality and history painting made to bolster up national pride. If you wander into a seaside emporium and explore the kitsch available you will find frivolity and sex, next to religion and superheroes and even the occasional union jack. The Académie des Beaux-Arts had in effect simply put a stamp of approval on a way of making images that appealed to people of a certain class, gender, nationality or background. These were not images to make you question the status quo, they were designed to reinforce it and the images we find in a seaside souvenir shop are also in many ways designed to appeal to people of a certain class, gender, nationality or background. They are also reassuring in the sense that you can find images and objects that you experienced as a child and can now look at with the affection of older eyes. 

But who said art should be about questioning the status quo? If you look at let's say Egyptian art, for several thousands of years images were made to order by artists commissioned by the state apparatus and these images were designed to reinforce a certain dominant view of the state of affairs. Greenberg suggests that authentic art, is art that questions itself, but I find it  hard to consider Egyptian art as being inauthentic. The academic tradition you could argue was lazy, outdated, intellectually vapid, a school for the boys who fitted in, and a way of trying to avoid change, but it did suit some people and taste together with manners would seem to have been very important to certain people at the time. In fact during the second half of the seventeenth century as French influence spread throughout Europe, French taste dominated art, costume, fashion, architecture, gardening and comportment. When Louis XIV (1638-1715) assumed the throne in 1661, his ambition was to establish a position of dominance not just in France, but in Europe as a whole, and he would achieve this by using style and taste through supremacy in the decorative arts and in visible royal refinement. So like so many things this was also about power and this when confronted can lead to dangerous and bloody times. The French Revolution managing to remove the royal family but not the processes of the Académie des Beaux-Arts, but what had been a useful tool for Louis XIV, was not fit for purpose by the end of the 19th century. 

The salon hang was because of its association with a failed system, consigned to history and the modernist idea of the white cube gradually replaced it, until eventually we arrived at the state of exhibition aesthetics as we see it today. 

So where are we now? The white cube aesthetic has become the norm, galleries even calling themselves by that name. See: The White Cube Gallery Certain conventions have arisen, such as the centre of paintings in galleries and museums being often hung at 57”. (Measuring from the floor to the centre of the artwork or grouping of artworks.) This height reflects a particular standard eye-height of an average 'male' person, and is another convention that can be questioned. Were people in wheelchairs considered? 

In 1976 Brian O’Doherty wrote a series of essays for Artforum magazine which were collected together in his book 'Inside the white cube'. In these essays O’Doherty highlighted the different types of meanings that the white walls of a gallery implied. In particular he pointed to the new church like aspect that galleries were now imposing on the 'read' of contemporary art. 

All the norms for hanging exhibitions have been questioned and it would now seem to be part of the artist's role to explore various possibilities before deciding on any one format. 

The point about this and other posts about presentation is that it is never neutral, when we are told the clean flat white wall is simply to allow us to see the work without distractions, we are actually being subtly inducted into a particular modernist idea.

If you look at the various exhibitions in the city, in particular those held in artist studio complexes, you will find a variety of approaches to these issues, sometimes putting work very low down, so that the audience has to bend down to look at it, sometimes up very high, so you need to look at the work through binoculars, sometimes clustered organically in clumps and using second hand frames, sometimes mixing conventions, so that one wall might use a white wall convention and another a salon hang. This is an exciting addition to the artist's armoury, and can be played with as part and parcel of your work's meaning, so don't avoid it and leave it to the curators.   

A recent Kara Walker exhibition using a salon type hang on one wall