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Modern Lab: The Box as Form, Structure, and Container

November 10, 2012 – October 27, 2013
East Building, Upper Level

Andy Warhol, Portraits of the Artists, 1967, screenprint in black on 100 2-part, colored polystyrene boxes, Gift of The Estate of Roy Lichtenstein, 2006.126.9

This exhibition is no longer on view at the National Gallery.

The Modern Lab is a small gallery dedicated to focused installations of modern and contemporary works in a variety of media from the Gallery's collection.

Overview: Art objects do not exist alone; they are subject to accumulation, display, and rearrangement. The box allows the artist to act out this relational impulse and at the same time make it a subject of the work.

Some of the boxes here address art's relationship to the camera, other optical devices, or the diorama; they let in or block out light and they enable or obstruct perception. Others address the relationship of art to architecture and its dichotomies: looking in and looking out, open and closed, concealment versus exposure. Boxes allow artists to consider the architectural problem of how to combine two-dimensional surfaces to create three-dimensional objects. Conversely, the unfolded, commercially produced cardboard box splays out a pattern of ready-made folds legible as a grid or picture and frame.

Finally, the long history of the box's relationship to death is referenced in works that contain body parts, recalling the reliquary, coffin, or sarcophagus. Hair displayed in a case suggests the saving of a relic for the sake of remembrance, a memento mori. Cast body parts suggest a death mask. Both art and the body are material objects, and as such they are subject to change despite the protective boundaries of the box.

This exhibition was off-view from February 19, 2013 to July 2, 2013

Organization: Organized by the National Gallery of Art.