I’ve decided that ramps constitute art’s slow death when placed inside a gallery. The presence of these inclined planes generally indicate quite a few problems, not the least of which are awkwardly divided exhibition space and decreased hanging area.
Having fewer places for artists to put their work on a wall tends not to be a good thing, but interiors without the proper feng shui ultimately prove much more problematic. Take Paul Henry Ramirez’s latest exhibition, “Chunk”, at Caren Golden: an average show, but almost impossible to evaluate as such because you can’t get enough distance from the work. Not that Ramirez’s paintings offer much for a viewer to contemplate — his abstracted playing card-esque iconography offers only mild satisfaction by way of soft curves meeting sharp corners — but had the gallery not been split in two by a ramp and storage space, this formal pairing might have carried the work further.
By contrast, Ward Davenny’s cloud photographs at Mary Ryan Gallery look passable in the newly renovated, ramp-removed space Team used to occupy, a real feat considering the gimmicky storm-chasing aspect of the work. Coincidentally, Team’s profile has risen considerably since leaving its ramped space behind. I’m not about to draw any connections between the financial success of a gallery and a slope in the floor, but I will note that strong architectural presentation at least puts forth an accomplished image.
White Box New York sports probably the best-known ramp in the art world, since you have to walk over at least 20 feet of it to get in the gallery. They are currently between shows so I can’t issue an opinion on an unlaunched exhibition, though I typically have a hard time enjoying any work hung in that space because it looks like a cross between a basement and an emptied swimming pool. I don’t want to be bitchy and amateurish, but walking along a lengthy ramped platform only to enter another awkward, staired space adds a burden to viewing art that I’m not always willing to shoulder.
Interestingly, while blue-chip galleries may have the money to rip out pesky ramps and hire great architects, they often end up with spaces so beautiful they overshadow the art. Just across the street from White Box, Robert Miller Gallery has one of the best-known pillar-framed walls in the business, and while I remember remarking on the architecture of the space just last week, I had to stretch to recall its current Lee Krasner watercolor show. Any number of factors could explain my poor recollection of the work — lack of interest certainly being among them — but I also can’t write off the effect that space has on the way I see art. Ultimately, the places we house paintings, sculptures and other mediums won’t change the works’ intrinsic worth, but it does affect how we look at and evaluate them. With this in mind, I put forth the idea that perhaps a rampless — even pillarless — art world will be a better one for all of us.