“We Are Sun-kissed and Snow-blind”

“I love the authority of black. It’s a color that doesn’t compromise. . . . At once a color and a non-color. When light is reflected on it, it transforms it, transmutes it. It opens up a mental field all of its own.” We owe this entirely personal definition to the painter Pierre Soulages, the inventor of outre-noir, ultrablack, whose work is on view all winter on the seventh floor of the Centre Pompidou. Meanwhile, elsewhere in Paris, Galerie Patrick Seguin was also playing with a color that is simultaneously a noncolor. Here, though, the subject was black’s immaculate counterpart: The gallery, partnering with Zurich’s Galerie Eva Presenhuber for the occasion, resembled a vast white monochrome. For the viewer who ventured to discover the thirty-two pieces shown (including works by Sylvie Fleury, Fischli & Weiss, Liam Gillick, and Martin Boyce—whose sculpture We Are Sun-kissed and Snow-blind, 2005, a white steel armature topped with a shroud, provided the title for the exhibition), the luminous intensity could be hard to take. From the walls to the ceiling and down to the floor, it was almost as if the exhibition in its entirety had been whitewashed with the paint that is typically smeared on the windows of stores closed for inventory.

All that was missing, to my mind, was one of the “painted objects” of the French artist Bertrand Lavier, who has used whitewash so well. Instead, from the horizon of this glaringly bright landscape, one was offered the beautiful tondos of Karen Kilimnik, including the snow Queen causing a blizzard in Siberia, 2008; Urs Fischer’s petrified sculpture, a still life combining ski boots and a dead tree branch that one might find after an avalanche; the hand imprint left by Ugo Rondinone in the wall (twelve sunsets, twenty nine dawns, all in one, 2008); or the small untitled video, 2008, by Trisha Donnelly. If white, like black, is often considered to be a noncolor (in the same way that a continuous sound spectrum is white noise), in this setting it seemed to exhaust the infinite spectrum of its declensions. At times it was matte and pale, crushed by its own symbolic weight, as in Invisible Man, 1999, a painting by Tim Rollins & K.O.S. that echoes Ralph Ellison’s novel; at others it sparkled and gleamed, for instance in Doug Aitken’s hypnotic neon walkabout, 2008. Exploring the many shades of pale, this collaborative exhibition (which opened during the FIAC art fair) also thumbed its nose at the myth of the discreet and unobtrusive gallery space. In presenting not just a white cube but a white cube squared, a pluperfect white cube that had absorbed even the works it was meant to enhance, “We Are Sun-kissed and Snow-blind” served as an ironic and elegant reminder that the supposed neutrality of exhibition spaces is but an illusion.

Claire Moulène

Translated from French by Molly Stevens.