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‘smoke’ DREAMS

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Publication: Journal Santa Fe Section; Date: Jul 1, 2011; Section: Gallery Guide; Page: S8

‘smoke’ DREAMS Pae White’s huge tapestries combine tradition, stunning digital twists Art Issues MALIN WILSON-POWELL For the Journal

Pae White’s monumental tapestries at SITE Santa Fe are redolent of grand Western art traditions, kitchen table aesthetics, and cyberspace inventiveness. Until 400 years ago, all art works had homes and were commissioned by patrons, but since that time, most art works have primarily been portable objects of commercial value and resale. The great efflorescence of tapestries in Europe during the 16th century were made for drafty, cold, hardsurface palaces and churches. Since 2003, White has been working with tapestry, and, since 2004, she has begun submitting her work to competitions for large-scale public commissions, including her spectacularly successful curtain titled “MetaFoil,” designed for the New Opera House in Oslo, Norway, and unveiled to world-wide “bravos” in 2008. Known for using overlooked, everyday objects, White made her magnificent Oslo curtain — really a fabric wall approximately 36-by-75 feet — with a roll of aluminum foil as a start. The tapestry is a translation in thread of a magnified digital image of crumpled foil. In tackling this Wagnerian task, White encountered continual problems to solve, which I suspect is her modus operandi — to develop the improbable and find a way to do it. To get a field of reflections that didn’t have areas that were suggestive of something like a duck, she needed to foil — excuse the pun — the human tendency to see familiar symbols and outlines. Her sense of humor is notable in making a “fool the eye” or tromp l’oeil fabric for a concert hall on a gargantuan scale from such a noisy, nonmusical material, a sheet of which can rankle the nerves during the simple act of wrapping a baked potato. On view at SITE is White’s “Candy Apple Crinkle,” her first foray into crumpled aluminum foil translated into tapestry. Approximately 12-by-9 feet, it is a handwoven wool tapestry in bright red-pink shades made with her oversight at the Taller Mexicanos de Gobelinos (Mexican Tapestry Workshop) in Guadalajara. Winning a commission the size of Oslo meant she had to find another means of production than hand weaving, which would have taken 800 weavers several years to complete. Her solution came from the enormous tapestries at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles that opened in 2002. Fabricated by Flanders Tapestries, they were digitally woven and had the detail and high quality she sought for Oslo. She wanted to push the visual conundrum between the depth, light and shadow of crinkly foil and the material softness of weaving. At SITE, there is a 2010 foil-image tapestry titled “Hollywood Crinkle,” about 9-by-26 feet, similar to the Oslo commission in cotton and polyester that is much cooler, more removed from the Mexican version. At the same time White was working on the Oslo commission, she created a digitally generated 2006 series titled “skygazing,” of eight tapestries, each approximately 8-by-6.5 feet, based upon an extended vertical collage from table-top detritus. Although some of the individual “skygazing” pieces have been collected by different owners, the entire series is on view at SITE. Reversing the traditional weaver’s method of working from the back, White arranged colorful snippets of sundry stuff for this series directly on the window of a digital scanner — including multi-lingual newspapers cut in strips, poison ivy leaves, neon pink sugar cookies with sprinkles, beautiful hand-loomed rebozos, chintzy bandannas, a metal chain and glitter that produces a field that looks like stars. All this is then magnified so people will notice what they normally do not, as O’Keeffe claimed for flower paintings. The tour-de-force of this exhibition is the 30-foot-long tapestry “Still” of smoke against a black background. It garnered White much deserved attention when it was shown at the 2010 Whitney Biennial. It’s gorgeous. For all the artist’s professed interested in the everyday and the ephemeral, this textile and 36 lovely “Smoke Studies” on carved, mostly pastel painted paper show the drifting languorous beauty of smoke. They are the result of painstaking selection from 600 photos, and refined discernment. Related to the majestic flow of uncurling smoke are two short, slow motion 2009 videos by White that are projected back-to-back. When you look at one, you can’t see the other. They are both Lasik images that render their subjects — a wild raspberry bush and a gnarled, ancient oak tree — into graceful transparent silhouettes dispersing light and energy, like moving Kirlian photographs. The most disappointing tapestry in the show is “Sea Beast,” commissioned by The Power Plant in Toronto, the originating institution for this exhibition. It is a blow up of a small macramé craft, including the $3 price tag reproduced as a monumental tapestry. While the verisimilitude of the different textures and the shadows are astonishing, and it may perfectly suit the setting for which it was designed, it just seems rather silly. Could it be an homage to Mike Kelley? He is the undisputed maestro of “pathetic art” who makes true masterpieces out of soiled, junk-store stuffed animals and bad cartoons found on office billboards. White, born in 1963, is a California native who still lives in her hometown of Pasadena, where she was first Kelly’s student and then his assistant. The tapestries (although hung too closely for my taste), the “Smoke Studies” and the videos have obvious relationships and make a very satisfying and provocative exhibition. Organized and circulated by The Power Plant in Toronto, the enthusiastic curator Gregory Burke is clearly exhilarated by the artist’s “experimental oeuvre (that) has continued to evolve roaming across different material forms and contexts — including expansive sculptures and installations, public art work, interior and graphic design projects, furniture, textiles, and animation — with a sense of exuberant abandon.” For the SITE installation, a few extra pieces have been added from White’s experimental “roaming” that might be bits from previous projects like the clunky, bright orange terra-cotta chandelier in the lobby and, outside the entrance, five cast-iron barbecues in the shape of animals indigenous to the Hudson River Valley. Although the artist may find her inspiration in the ordinary and the simple, she has created unlikely, hyper-sophisticated works on an operatic scale for our era. White may relish her earlier, more modest explorations of the neglected and forgotten, but her range of expressive capabilities has fundamentally changed her. It now encompasses the care a craft artist may take with a bit of discarded ribbon and the finesse of a 40-foot crane operator working in a tight urban space. If you go WHAT: Pae White: “Material Mutters” WHERE: SITE Santa Fe, 1606 Paseo de Peralta WHEN: Through Sept. 18. COST: $10 general admission; $5 students, teachers & seniors. Free every Friday. CONTACT: (505) 989-119 or www.sitesantafe. org

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‘smoke’ DREAMS

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COURTESY GALERIE PAUL ANDRIESSE, AMSTERDAM “Hollywood Crinkle” is a 2010 cotton and polyester tapestry by Pae White.

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‘smoke’ DREAMS

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COURTESY GREENGRASSI, LONDON AND NEUGERRIEMSCHNEIDER, BERLIN “Still,” from 2010, is a 30-foot-long cotton and polyester tapestry of smoke by Pae White.

COURTESY ARENA MEXICO, ARTE CONTEMPORANEO, GUADALAJARA “Candy Apple Crinkle” is a 2008 hand-woven wool tapestry by Pae White.

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Pae White at SITE Santa Fe