In Views from Inner to Outer Compartments (2013), a portfolio of nine photo-engravings, Walid Raad lays bare the architectural framework that shapes the traditional museum experience. In white ink on white paper we see (though barely) the outlines of doorways from European museums. The decisive precision of the lines, laid out by Raad using architectural drafting software (AutoCAD), and the pristine printing of the plates by Jacob Samuel result in flawlessly clean, authoritative, yet visually elusive images. Centered on the plate, the architecture is discernible only through the lines between floor and wall, and between doorways and the open air of the rooms beyond. The spaces hover, ungrounded, familiar yet barren. One print shows a movable wall—a distinct feature of museums—flanked by doorways leading right and left; all the others depict a succession of rooms, doorway upon doorway opening into room upon room. Echoed by the serial succession of the portfolio, this multiplicity of passages invokes a sense of being lost in space and time (a feeling not uncommon when making one’s way through a blockbuster show). Like an archive or an exhibition, the portfolio format usually promises completion or at least a wholeness of understanding, but here immersion is strategically disorienting.
To see these images at all requires concentrated looking—the lines are fine and the ink color differs from that of the paper only in being very slightly more golden. Once the eye adjusts, however, Raad’s spare geometries and subtle architectural flourishes create convincing space and depth—we recognize where we are and we become acutely aware of what is missing. A wall, an archway, or the tiny stepped edges of wooden molding help us to identify the titular “compartments” as those of museums, but their artworks and objects—the lifeblood of those institutions—are nowhere to be seen.