Pae White, Better Places, 2011, mirror, aluminum thread, painted paper, vinyl, dimensions variable.

Pae White, Better Places, 2011, mirror, aluminum thread, painted paper, vinyl, dimensions variable.

Pae White

Pae White, Better Places, 2011, mirror, aluminum thread, painted paper, vinyl, dimensions variable.

The new works that made up Pae White’s recent exhibition, “A piece of the almost grey sky . . . ,” had each been assigned an allusive and ironic title. Two large tapestries with white backgrounds, coming after those enormous ones with black backgrounds seen at the 2010 Whitney Biennial, are called Milan Hazy 1 and Milan Hazy 2 (all works cited, 2011), the English words recalling through assonance the Italian name for the inhabitants of Milan: Milanesi. The images were originally photographs of coils of smoke, to which White gave plastic relief and visual consistency while maintaining their two-dimensionality; they are dark, from black to a range of browns, but when examined at close proximity they are seen to contain a rich gamut of small, colorful touches. The two works were exhibited along with Pop Corona, a circular constellation of large objects shaped like popcorn, created in white porcelain, their interiors embellished with gold glaze. Hung from the ceiling by thin cables, they formed a circle suspended in midair. Several other works in the show featured similar imagery. A series of larger sculptures was lined up in front of the long reception table; titled “Companions,” it is made up of many different subordinate units whose interiors are glazed in platinum.

The most complex work in this show, however, was Pop Storm, which comprises a much greater number of popcornlike objects, smaller and made from Japanese paper clay, embellished with yellow dyes, and then blackened with a propane torch. This avalanche of small elements, hung at eye level, was supported by a dense mass of black upholstery thread so that the viewer did not perceive the serpentine form of the whole, in effect bringing to mind an impending landslide. Instead, one could approach and enter amid the work’s coils, as if in a silent snowstorm.

Better Places, meanwhile, was suspended low, almost touching the floor. It is made up of superimposed layers of small, paper-thin, two-sided hexagonal mirrors that reflect the colorful collages glued onto one side of each hexagon, in a chain of glimmers and reflections, to great visual effect. Here, White again evinces her masterful use of color, accentuating its somewhat artificial intensity in a way that recalls the psychedelic cultures her works often evoke. Seen in her native California, her work would relate to commonplace and popular lifestyles, but seen in Italy, it seemed striking in its exoticism and formal complexity, even bordering on the eccentric.

Examples of this were seen in the paintings scattered throughout the gallery, all the same size (just under eighteen square inches) and created by applying clay to a wood support and then burning into the clay, inserting colored inks into the incisions, and burning it again. White creates abstract schemes made of images of stars in undulating linear series, or of circular white on black grids, or with inserts of delicate pink amid extremely subtle vertical white lines. Among all of these works, the most intriguing piece was perhaps Challenged Text, which bears a colorful legend that seems like an ironic statement addressed to the viewer/critic of the work. It reads THIS IS A DRAWING OF REGULAR LOVE DESCRIBED BY ME AND NOT INTERPRETED BY YOU. Even more than in knowing how not to interpret, the problem may lie in the impossibility knowing what “regular” signifies.

Giorgio Verzotti

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.