Although U.S. museums became a testing ground for new methods of display, they were certainly not the only places of experimentation. Across the Atlantic in Germany, white was gradually becoming the accepted wall color for galleries. For some, it evoked the contemporary Bauhaus-style interiors that were popular at the time. For others, it served as a neutral background that made it easier to transition between temporary exhibitions—a phenomenon which was becoming more and more important to museums as the 20th century progressed.
But it wasn’t until the Third Reich took hold of the country during the 1930s that white became the standardized color for German gallery walls. “In England and France white only becomes a dominant wall colour in museums after the Second World War, so one is almost tempted to speak of the white cube as a Nazi invention,” Klonk said. “At the same time, the Nazis also mobilized the traditional connotation of white as a colour of purity, but this played no role when the flexible white exhibition container became the default mode for displaying art in the museum.”
Developments in both the United States and Germany were drawing museum professionals closer and closer to today’s conception of the white cube, but it was MoMA’s first director Alfred Barr who finally cemented its strategy for display. That’s not to say that the New York museum was the first to pull together these various threads; as McClellan notes, the Harvard Art Museum and the Wadsworth Atheneum both mounted exhibitions in the early 1930s that utilized the white cube approach. “But MoMA, because of the attention that was given to it, did institutionalize and help publicize standards that were already being put into place elsewhere,” he explained.