Los Angeles

Pae White

Native Californian Pae White’s exhibition “Periwinkles” opened in the fall, and it was tempting to imagine the seasonal gust of a Santa Ana bringing her work to life, a warm wind animating her delicate ornithological models and setting her translucent mobiles chiming. White invokes highmodernist sculpture, architecture, and design, but reinvests their characteristic forms with an oft-forgotten element of playfulness and wit. For example, among the new works presented at 1301PE were two large hanging sculptures that exist somewhere between Alexander Calder’s mobiles and sets of kitschy beaded curtains. Stretching from floor to ceiling, they admit whimsy without sacrificing an ounce of beauty, and their titles, Frieze Festoon (all works 2005) and FedEx Festoon (the former is made of glass, string, and laminated ephemera, the latter of glass and laminated FedEx airbills), underscore an unapologetically decorative intent.

Also included in the show were five twisted wire birdcage sculptures, some substantially larger than the otherwise similar works that appeared at the UCLA Hammer Museum in 2004. Two were shown here resting on the floor rather than hanging from the ceiling, as their predecessors had been, encouraging us to consider them in relation to the gallery space rather than as wholly autonomous objects. Some are adorned with organic elements such as hair and spiderwebs laminated in flamboyant color, while others are inhabited by paper birds. But if their expanded size makes peering into the cages a little easier, some magic has been lost in the change in scale.

Two wall texts, designed on a computer and titled Farewell Garland; Adieu Adieu and Farewell Garland; Go Long So Long, consist of the words of their titles reproduced in layers of self-adhesive vinyl, constituting a typographical explosion that also approaches painterly abstraction. The entangled design completely obstructs our view of the original words; the instruments of meaning are thus camouflaged and transformed into camouflage. The idea of blending in has long been an element of White’s practice: Whenever she has designed promotional graphics or functional objects, they tend to be neither immediately recognizable as such nor identifiable as her own work.

Previously, White has always taken the site into consideration when making and installing her work. As a consequence of her interest in and knowledge of architecture, she has habitually achieved a sense of harmonious adornment in even the starkest white-cube setting. But in “Periwinkles,” her sculptures somehow fail to merge with or otherwise transform the gallery. The ornamental quality of the work evokes an image from the Shirley Temple movie The Little Princess (1939), based on the novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett. The idea that a poor orphan girl could go to sleep one night and awaken the next morning to a room transformed by a wealthy neighbor is a compelling one. (The closest we usually come today is in the anticlimactic denouements of home-makeover shows.) In the film, when a neighbor’s bird flies into Temple’s freezing attic room, she refers to the dwelling as a “nest” in order to allay the pet owner’s horror. The next morning, she wakes to a silk quilt, a roaring fire, and an array of culinary delicacies. White, at her best, is able to effect a similarly dramatic transformation, but in “Periwinkles” the crucial element of surprise is missing.

Amra Brooks