An Analysis of "The Eye and the Spectator” Inside the White Cube: "The Ideology of the Gallery Space"

The influential writer Brian O’Doherty has had a huge impact on the exhibition of art in modern times. One of his most famous works, dubbed “The Eye and the Spectator” Inside the White Cube, deals with the current methods of displaying art in galleries across Europe and the United States.

This brief analysis will look at what his work on gallery space reforms means to the art world in the present socio-political climate. First, we will take a deeper look into his essay, and the meaning behind it.

The Ideology of Gallery Space

One cannot view art as being separate from its context, because in many cases it is the context that gives meaning to the artwork itself. In that regard, the proper use of gallery   space when displaying artwork is of great importance when considering the effect of the environment on how the art is perceived.

When looking into the ideology of Gallery Space, O’Doherty maintains that the ideal gallery should strive to isolate art from all things that might interfere with the fact that it is, above all else, a piece of art. A painting, for example, should be isolated from any external influences that might have an effect on the context that the viewer derives from the artwork.

Therefore, the socio-political environment surrounding the gallery, should not be allowed to come in between the artwork and the viewer, in such a way that might lead them to assume that the work is intended to mean something else entirely. If, for example, a piece of art is displayed during a time of war, it does not necessarily mean there is any connection between the two.

“The Eye and the Spectator” Inside the White Cube

To free artwork from the trap of being influenced by its socio-political environment, O’Doherty challenges galleries to create what he refers to as the white cube, a space free from distractions that would otherwise prevent the viewer (the spectator), from viewing the art in its intended form.

This has had a huge impact on how contemporary art, installation art, conceptual art, and minimal art, are displayed in modern-day galleries. Artists of these four genres have benefited greatly by being allowed a neutral background on which to display their art in the way they intend it to be perceived.

Creators of contemporary art and conceptual art have the added advantage of creating their art, knowing that when it is displayed, it will be done so in a way that allows the spectator to form their own opinion, free from any outside element, including the perceptions of the artists themselves.

The theory of the white cube also aligns with the basics of what minimal art is all about. This art movement that began in the 1960s in America, is an extension of the belief shared by O’Doherty, that art should be viewed as a creation in its own reality, which is neither influenced by nor based on, any other thing in the viewer’s own reality.

Installation art, however, thrives on being as immersive as possible. It works on a slightly altered version of the original white cube ideology. Instead of art that is displayed in a sterile environment, here the space is utilized by elements based on the artwork itself, giving the spectator the feeling of being immersed in the art’s context, yet still separate from the outside world. 

Reception of the White Cube Theory

The impact of O’Doherty’s work on gallery space management was quite strong back in 1976 when the essay was first published. There was a marked change in galleries across Europe, and the United States, as artists began to appreciate this modern way of displaying art. Even today, the effects are still visible in many galleries around the world.


When Brian O’Doherty wrote that original essay on gallery space ideology, little did he know of the impact his ideas would have on how future generations would view and appreciate art. It is very difficult to imagine there was any other way to properly display artwork apart from this one. Today, walk into any gallery and the ideas behind ““The Eye and the Spectator” Inside the White Cube,” are quite evident.