The art of hanging pictures, to steal a phrase from Kerry James Marshall, is a bit like the craft of using words to make sentences, which in turn cohere into paragraphs, which accumulate in the service of an idea. It is part didactic instruction, part ineffable feeling about what things work well together. Both rely on the principle that the space between pictures is not neutral, that the pictures themselves are not autonomous (unless they are placed in a way to suggest that), and that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts….
…the arrangement of pictures, to steal another phrase, this time from Louise Lawler, … was also inextricably tied to the primary methodology of art history: that of “compare and contrast.” …the underlying idea was that meaning is built through syntax, that syntax requires difference, and that difference is something to be staged or spatialized or, at the very least, invoked through the act of adjacency.
Too many recent exhibitions have taken their installation cues from art fairs and the like, more prone toward leveling than toward difference, more inclined toward the presentation of opinion than toward the dexterity of argumentation. Is there no way that we can imagine holding on to the productive syntactic function of compare-and-contrast?
—Helen Molesworth, review of the Whitney Biennial, Artforum, May 2014.