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Inside the Yellow Box: Cultural Exceptionalism and the Ideology of the Gallery Space

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The ‘yellow box’ was developed during the early 2000s by the Hong Kong-based gallerist Chang Tsong-zung (Johnson Chang) – working in collaboration with others, including the academic, curator and critic Gao Shiming – as a critical alternative to the now internationally dominant mode of gallery display known as the ‘white cube’. The yellow box encompasses a range of enacted and proposed modes of display purportedly conducive to the public showing of artworks produced using ideas and techniques associated historically in China with neo-Confucian ‘literati’ ink-andbrush painting and calligraphy. This article begins with a discussion of the yellow box and how it can be understood to intervene critically in the curatorial paradigm of the white cube. It will then go on to present a critical appraisal of neo-Confucian literati culture and its relationship to the yellow box. It will be argued that while the yellow box is open to interpretation as a productive resistance to the international dominance of the white cube, its connection to a historically exclusory aristocraticpatriarchal neo-Confucianism remains highly problematic with regard to progressive cultural politics in the contemporary public sphere.
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Keywords: Chang Tsong-zung (Johnson Chang); curating and cultural politics; exhibition paradigms; literati painting and calligraphy; neo-Confucianism; white cube; yellow box

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: University of Nottingham 2: Independent Critic and Curator

Publication date: October 1, 2017

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  • The Journal of Curatorial Studies is an international, peer-reviewed publication that explores the cultural functioning of curating and its relation to exhibitions, institutions, audiences, aesthetics and display culture. The journal takes a wide perspective in the inquiry into what constitutes "the curatorial." Curating has evolved considerably from the connoisseurship model of arranging objects to now encompass performative, virtual and interventionist strategies. While curating as a spatialized discourse of art objects remains important, the expanded cultural practice of curating not only produces exhibitions for audiences to view, but also plays a catalytic role in redefining aesthetic experience, framing cultural conditions in institutions and communities, and inquiring into constructions of knowledge and ideology.
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