Pae White

Born (1963) in Pasadena, California. She studied at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, Skowhegan, Minnesota, and at the Art Center College of Design, Pasadena, California. Recent solo exhibitions (selection): The Art Institute of Chicago, Bluhm Family Terrace, (Chicago, 2011); Material Mutters, The Power Plant (Toronto, 2010); Dying Oak, St Louis Art Museum (St Louis, 2010); Lisa Bright and Dark, Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (Scottsdale, 2008). Recent group exhibitions (selection): Contemplating The Void, Guggenheim Museum (New York, 2010); Whitney Biennial, Whitney Museum of American Art (New York, 2010); Making Worlds, 53rd Biennale di Venezia (Venice, 2009); Martian Museum of Terrestrial Art, Barbican Art Gallery (London, 2008); Tales of Time and Space, Folkestone Triennial (Folkestone, 2008); Skulptur Projekte Münster 07 (Münster, Germany, 2007).


In the universe of Pae White, cotton fantasizes, aluminium foil dreams, and wisps of smoke unfurl with the smouldering intensity of a screen goddess. The humble materials speak, and White listens, her ear attuned to their mutterings.

Throughout her practice, White has responded to the longings of everyday objects of reliable, though unremarkable, service; often focusing her production on creating stunningly beautiful interventions in difficult or forgotten spaces. By nature, she is a collector and an accumulator, assembling large scrapbooks of found images and assorted ephemera that eventually creep into her work. She savours discarded bits of paper, objects that have fallen into disuse and disfavour, oversweet cookies relegated to the province of small children, and ordinary flora condemned by bad reputation.  She hears these objects' desires and responds to their longings for grandeur by choreographing them into crisp, arresting images, amplifying their voices and endowing them with heroic stature, deploying a poetic sensibility akin to poet Marianne Moore’s “plain American which cats and dogs can read"[1].

The effortlessness and clarity of White’s production resists interpretation. It is easier to relax into her lush and unapologetic use of colour, and the direct beauty of her offerings. She doesn’t undermine the experience with irony, she doesn’t shy away from a good pun, she doesn’t wince at unabashed visual pleasure, and she doesn’t ridicule. Even though her work is often environmental and architectural, it doesn’t have the pulsing ego of a bravura performance that exults in its very existence. It slips between the pages of a magazine, transforms neglected plots of urban land for canine encounters, and embellishes the bus seats of Los Angeles, a city whose art collectors rarely take the bus. And yet, the intellectual complexity of the work unfurls with a slight tap on the latch, like a masterfully produced cabinet of wonders. In the process, she foregrounds the seemingly naïve inquiries, which are fundamental to modern and post-modern art, such as “why is it art?” Or in White’s case, the joyously defiant, innocent-until-proven-guilty, Duchampian question, “Why isn’t it art?”


Susan Emerling



[1] Marianne Moore, “England”  in Complete Poems, Marianne Moore (New York: Penguin Classics, 1994), 46-47


Summer Samplers #15, 1998, webs on paper 39 x 54.5 cm
Summer Samplers #13, 1998, webs on paper, 71.5 x 51 cm

Untitled (12th Istanbul Biennial), 2011 Biennale de Lyon