While the structure of the gallery is virtually limitless in the boundary-less non-physically governed realm of cyberspace, Width: 700px; Gallery chooses the ubiquitous white cube as its form. Not only does it take on that familiar gallery format, every “room” in each show is just a template. The colors the walls are painted may vary; works may appear hung on the “wall” or as sculpture on the “floor” or “pedestals.” Even the first frame, the front desk, is cast from the same mold with just a post it note which expands to a description of the show before you enter.
When a gallery can be so much more flexible with space online, why settle for the same structure we have seen over and over? It could be the same reason that new galleries choose to revert to a familiar format rather than trying something new: the white cube is safe. It is comfortable and well known. Perhaps, on the other hand, the lo-res pixelated reflection of the art world is a lighthearted critique of the institution, a reduction of the space and a teasing at an aesthetic associated with huge sums of cultural and monetary capital. In a world where the newcomers are tech-savvy and the upper crust of the art world takes tremendous strength to grab a foothold in, it makes sense that counterculture and the underdogs will do what they have always done: satire and attempt to subvert the world from which they are still excluded.
The white cube of Width: 700px;, curated and created by Levi Bruce, is a chance to pretend, a fantasy, and a rebellion all rolled into one. It surpasses the conventional gallery in its ability to show digital-only work, which real world galleries are still trying to figure out. In the new gallery, a .gif may be housed in an ornate goldleaf frame, an icon from a well known program may sit on the floor, poised in perfect non-space, pretending to exist in more than two dimensions.
How the gallery goers access the space is different, too. Instead of keeping an eye out in journals or receiving postcards, the viewer of this exhibit is invited on Facebook. A link to the show is published on opening night. Maybe followers of past shows will see the new work on their feed, as the gallery is after all, merely a tumblr. Perhaps the viewer has instead followed an entire arc of links, looking at the featured artist of the curator. Yes, it does seem a quite a bit less glamorous than the cocktail parties of yesteryear, but how many visitors from Mozambique, Korea, or Greece for example would have come to a localized opening? I can venture a significantly smaller number.
Sherwin Rivera Tibayan, the last exhibiting artist, seems like a natural fit in this gallery. A PhD student at University of Texas, Austin, his work in the exhibition continues on his own practice of distorting the space in the gallery through mirrors, clone stamp .gifs of established gallery spaces, frames, and windows. "Tibayan generates work that both deconstructs and caters to the specific environment in which it might be showcased. Both contextually and visually, the artwork is made as a reaction to the gallery, suggesting the confinement and rigidity of traditional exhibition space."
While the exhibition space is incredibly exciting, and I appreciate its play on the rather annoyingly consistent structure the art world tends to fall on, I also find myself wishing in the same breath that it would take it to the next level, whatever that level might look like.