– Spring 2013

Summer Work: The Art of Pae White

Glenn Adamson

Pae White, Companions, 2011, Southern Ice porcelain and gold glaze, dimensions variable, Photograph: Fredrik Nilsen. Courtesy the artist and 1301PE, Los Angeles

In 2005, while walking through the Frieze Art Fair in London, I detected the distinctive whiff of fresh popcorn. I remember thinking it must be coming from the snack bar, but on turning into the next booth, I was confronted with a monumental artwork: a skip (in the US we’d call it a dumpster) filled to the brim with popped kernels. It turned out that this was a work by the Mexican artist Gabriel Kuri. My immediate reaction was: how very art fair. The beckoning but sickly scent; the explicit reference to mass entertainment; the inevitable onset of staleness; the sheer grandiosity and absurdity of it. Kuri had created the perfect emblem for an art world given over to commercial spectacle. More recently, I encountered a sculptural use for popcorn a second time, at Art Basel Miami Beach in 2011. This time the popped kernels gave off no smell. That’s because they were made of porcelain, coloured by hand to look like the real thing. They were also a bit oversized, and were arranged in rows hanging from the ceiling that together described a serpentine river of salty snacks. The installation was by the Californian artist Pae White — and I was smitten right away. If I had smiled ruefully at Kuri’s arch gesture about the current condition of art production and viewership, and then moved on quickly, when I saw White’s work I giggled and wanted to linger. The jaded, seen-it-all frame of mind that sets in so easily at art fairs drained away for a little while. In its place was the joy of finding something trivial made into something wondrous.

It’s a

  1. All quotations come from a conversation with the artist, 1 September 2012.