– Spring 2013

Pae White’s Welcome Climate Change

Terry R. Myers

Pae White, Smoke Knows, 2009, mixed media, dimensions variable. Photograph: Fredrik Nilsen. Courtesy the artist and 1301PE, Los Angeles and greengrassi, London

One of the more surprising takeaways from last summer’s dOCUMENTA (13) is that tapestries are definitely back. The timely rejuvenation of Hannah Ryggen’s antifascist weavings from the mid-1930s to the 50s; the poignantly delayed arrival of a 1972—73 Mappa by Alighiero e Boetti, which had been anticipated for Documenta 5; and the immediate splendour of Goshka Macuga’s magical history montage Of what is, that it is; of what is not, that it is not 1 (part one was shown in Kassel, and part two in Kabul; 2012) all came together at the Fridericianum in Kassel to reassure me that no material or medium will remain obsolete as long as an artist does something interesting with it. Pae White has made several stunning tapestries over the past few years, and none were included in this edition of Documenta, although the abundant expanse of her practice would have dovetailed strikingly with the ambitious scope of the exhibition.1 I am not interested in protesting the absence of White’s work in this particular show. I am, however, deeply interested in her varied practice, and have been ever since her MFA final exhibition at Art Center College of Design, Pasadena, California in 1991. White’s dynamic way of working has since resulted in a spectrum of objects and situations of remarkable diversity, but this body of work resists appearing random by its ability to achieve a steady assortment: a sense of coherence similar to the beauty of a bouquet of wild flowers or the pleasure suggested by a sampler box of candy or 31 flavours of ice cream — or even the expectation of the unpredictability of

  1. For a discussion of the exhibition in terms of its ambition, see Terry R. Myers, ‘Standing Still and Walking in Kassel: dOCUMENTA (13)’, The Brooklyn Rail, September 2012, pp.50—51, also available at http://brooklynrail.org/2012/09/artseen/standing-still-and-walking-in-kasseldocumenta-13 (last accessed on 11 November 2012).

  2. Quoted in Oliver Zybok, ‘Pae White — Fold, Unfold, Re-fold’, in Gregory Burke (ed.), Pae White: Material Mutters (exh. cat.), Toronto: The Power Plant, 2010, p.64.

  3. Ibid., p.72, fn.16.

  4. T.R. Myers, ‘Pae White’, artext, no.69, May—July 2000, p.85. Thirty-one flavours relates to the US ice cream chain Baskin-Robbins and their number of ice cream flavours.

  5. Siegfried Kracauer, ‘The Mass Ornament’ (1927; trans. Barbara Correll and Jack Zipes), in Charles Harrison and Paul Wood (ed.), Art in Theory: 1900—1990: An Anthology of Changing Ideas, Oxford: Blackwell, 1992, p.462.

  6. See, for example, Cynthia Dizikes, ‘Art Disrupts Wedding Plans at Chicago’s Art Institute’, Chicago Tribune, 17 May 2011, available at http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2011-05-17/news/ct-met-artinstitute-wedding-20110517_1_art-institute-s-modern-wing-erin-hogan-terrace (last accessed on 23 November 2012).

  7. My line of thinking has been influenced by Maurice Tuchman’s suggestion, in his essay ‘Hidden Meanings in Abstract Art’, that the ‘effect of Kandinsky’s ideas upon Duchamp merits further investigation’. See M. Tuchman (ed.), The Spiritual in Art: Abstract Painting 1890—1985 (exh. cat.), Los Angeles and New York: Los Angeles County Museum of Art and Abbeville Press, 1986, p.47.

  8. This is from Duchamp’s entry on Kandinsky for the 1950 catalogue of the Soci.t. Anonyme, reprinted in Robert L. Herbert, Eleanor S. Apter and Elise K. Kenney (ed.), The Société Anonyme and the Dreier Bequest at Yale University: A Catalogue Raisonné, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984, p.355.