“Wide White Space”

BOZAR - Centre for Fine Arts

In 1966 Anny De Decker and Bernd Lohaus launched their contemporary art gallery Wide White Space in Antwerp. This was an evocative though paradoxical name, given the dimensions of this first space. After going through two changes of address in its home city, in 1968 and 1973, and opening a second space in Brussels in ’73, the gallery remained active until 1977, although it slowed down considerably toward the end of this period, with only one exhibition a year in the two years before it closed. Among the artists shown were Marcel Broodthaers, Gerhard Richter, Joseph Beuys, Carl Andre, Daniel Buren, and Lawrence Weiner—all before 1970. Wide White Space contributed greatly to the emergence of this new artistic scene, one encountered elsewhere in Europe in exhibitions like “Prospect” in Düsseldorf, beginning in 1968, “When Attitudes Become Form” in Bern and “Op Losse Schroeven” (On Loose Screws) in Amsterdam in 1969, and then at Documenta V in 1972, which marked the most sustained instance of the work of this period.

Like all of these, the program of Wide White Space today appears, esthetically, to have been mostly eclectic, but one should qualify this by recalling that this eclecticism strove to be antiesthetic, and was accompanied, at least judging from appearances, by a strong ideological cohesion that was rebellious and transgressive. It is, however, probable that even this last point bears deeper reexamination. Evoking Broodthaers and Beuys, figures who could not be more divergent, De Decker reported in the catalogue, “Marcel always regarded the work of Beuys with astonishment. They [both] belonged to the [World] War [II] generation, and Marcel always said, ‘Ah, it’s horrible. That Beuys was in his Stuka, bombing me, while I was [huddling] in the cellar.’”

The exhibition at the Palais does Beaux Arts, subtitled “Behind the Museum” in an allusion to Wide White Space’s first address (an expression taken from the invitations printed by the gallery at the time, and which one may take in a more metaphorical sense), refers to an operation typical of institutional operation: the homage to a private and independent structure, the necessity for which originates, in part, from the dissatisfaction caused by the way museums actually function. Whence an inevitable feeling of petrification, along with a certain melancholy. This overall impression fortunately passed as soon as one’s attention was drawn to the various works brought together for this occasion: a set of pieces by Panamarenko, several beautiful black and white paintings by Richter, some of Andre’s best sculptures, and a rather unusual Richard Long piece, Driftwood, 1975—a relief for the visitor dreading yet another incarnation of his ubiquitous stone circles. All of this constituted an exemplary panorama, although one might, depending on one’s taste and perhaps inevitably in this kind of exhibition, pick out two or three presences that were frankly less than exalting (for me James Lee Byars or A. R. Penck).

The works were presented alongside various kinds of ephemera and film documentation about the artists. This most interesting archival work is continued in the substantial publication prepared for the exhibition, which contains a catalogue raisonné with commentary of all the exhibitions organized by Wide White Space, as well as several interviews with the founders and with various players in the art world, including two of the artists in the exhibition (Buren and Weiner). Here we have the embryo of a social history of the art of the ’60s and ’70s that still remains to be written if only to better understand our present situation; the lack of one is only more cruelly felt with each passing day.

Jean-Pierre Criqui

Translated from the French by Warren Niesluchowski.