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What Color Is That Gallery? The Spring Show As Trailblazer

blackThe Spring Show at the Park Avenue Armory, which started today, is a new event in the art calendar. This is its third edition, as fair organizers like to term their annual events. It is a mixed offering — mixed in the goods on offer (paintings, furniture, silver, jewelry, flags, artifacts, etc. etc.), mixed in quality, mixed in the geographical home of the dealers, and so on. At the opening preview reception last night, I found plenty of things to enjoy and admire, as well as some that were easy to bypass.

redArt snobs who pass it up are missing something, and so are museum people. True, they won’t find many museum-quality items on offer. But they will find something else: Spring Show galleries provide a laboratory for the color of their walls. Not since Thelma Golden hung Bob Thompson’s paintings on bright yellow walls at the Whitney in 1998 have I seen such an eye-opening display. (OK, there was the Brooklyn Museum’s experiment with neon colors for its American art galleries, but I didn’t and don’t like those. But the beige walls in the Metropolitan Museum’s American paintings galleries are just as awful.)

greenSince then, we’ve seen museums expand their use of colored walls — as I mentioned in my last post, the Brooklyn very successfully used melon walls for its current Sargent exhibition, and I’ve noticed marvelous shades of blue, olive, deep purple, gold, etc. etc. in many museums. Even in contemporary art exhibitions, white walls are not the required uniform anymore.

What did I see last night? Black. Turquoise. Deep Green. Bright red.

I took pictures, some posted here, but they don’t do the job as well as I’d have liked. Exposure was difficult because the dealers put spotlights on their offerings.

multi2But you will get the drift.

Ain’t it grand? And worth experimenting with?








Photo Credits:  © Judith H. Dobrzynski


  1. Absolutely fascinating the difference the background colour makes..,it’s a science in itself. I’ve often wondered how much artists of the past requested the colours of the walls their pictures were to be hung on.

  2. YES! YES! YES! Thank you for this. The key is good curation/design.

  3. Barbara Chalsma says

    In the 1980s when Kirby Talley became head of the Allen Art Museum at Oberlin College, he had all the galleries painted rich, deep–but not bright–colors such as forest green and eggplant. These walls caused the paintings to appear infused with additional light and life. There was much harrumping by the art history academics at the time, and why do I guess the walls were repainted white in the years since Mr.Talley left Oberlin? Does anyone know if this is so?

  4. I am not a fan. Beige is better.

  5. Beige is SAFE, but color is great if the exhibition warrants it. Color on the walls could actually enhance an exhibition on antique furniture or neutral sculpture. Dare to be othe than “safe”.

  6. I agree that adding color can help create a dynamic setting for antique furniture or for neutral sculptures, but as for painting it distorts the image. The hues shift in direct comparison to this background color while ambient light affects highlights and color balance . It is definitely a different painting than as the artist intended * unless intended that way… Otherwise it is a parlor trick, a gimmick for sales.

  7. I recently visited the Brooklyn Museum to see the beautiful show of Sargent watercolors (about which you wrote so well) and we also went to see the European paintings. The walls in the Sargent show are painted in warm colors and they really set off the colorful and exotic watercolors. The exhibition is a joy to be in. But the European paintings are hung on stone walls around a vast empty atrium, with very cool, even, cold lighting. The paintings look cold and lonely, and very very unhappy. These masterworks (from the Italian Renaissance to Impressionisism) deserve a sympathetic environment with appropriate wall colors and warmer lighting. I can’t understand how the curators can do so well with the Sargent show and so very badly with their own collection.

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