In 1967, German-Canadian mathematician and physicist Gunter Wyszecki wrote in his book Color Science that the human eye could distinguish as many as 10 million colors. With so many choices on the artist’s palette, why would anyone choose to work solely in white?
What do you think of when someone says “white”? Milk is white, snow is white, even the Taj Mahal is white. It’s the color most often associated with innocence, purity, honesty and cleanliness. It’s also the title of the latest self-curated exhibition, on display through April 26 at the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville.
The staff at MOCA drew inspiration largely from Kazimir Malevich’s 1918 painting White on White, an abstract, geometric, oil-on-canvas piece utilizing textural brushstrokes and subtle variations of white. A Russian painter and art theoretician, Malevich was the originator of the avant-garde Suprematism movement.
Today, White on White, on display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, is prompting dialogue in Northeast Florida.
“The story of white in contemporary art is vast,” explains MOCA director and chief curator Marcelle Polednik. “We were interested in selecting a few artists — a few chapters — from a much larger conversation that we felt were compelling on their own, but also compelling in conversation with one another.”
The result is WHITE, which took about four years to put together. It features a varied group of international artists working in a wide array of media.
American artist Tara Donovan creates large-scale installations and sculptures from everyday objects. For her piece Haze, which is featured in this exhibition, Donovan used translucent plastic drinking straws to fashion an organic wave-like surface. In Surface, British sculptor Rachel Whiteread configured plaster and laminated wood for her table structure.
“We looked at artists who have made an indelible mark on contemporary art and have done so using the color white,” says Polednik. “These are all very highly regarded, internationally renowned figures.”
Four of the artists highlighted in WHITE have shown at MOCA Jacksonville before, including Robert Rauschenberg and Jules Olitski (works by both are in the museum’s permanent collection) and Brazilian artist-photographer Vik Muniz, who showed in the 2011 exhibition Shared Vision: The Sondra Gilman and Celso Gonzalez-Falla Collection of Photography.
The fourth is British painter and filmmaker James Nares, who showed the video piece Street about a year-and-a-half ago in an exhibition called Slow. The video has since been highly acclaimed and was purchased by The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. It also helped create a solid relationship with MOCA.
“There are very few works in white that he’s made,” Polednik says of Nares. “It’s a new body of work that he started about a year ago and, based on the strength of his experience with MOCA during that Slow exhibition, he generously offered to create a new work for the museum. So that was really exciting from our point of view.”
According to press material, Nares’ piece White Out was created using a “road-marking paint machine, which he calls ‘The Little Dragon,’ to lay down strips of paint onto expanses of canvas and sprinkles glass beads onto them.” Nares will visit the museum on March 5 to discuss his work and career. Admission to the event is free, and it’s open to the public.
“Part of our goal at MOCA is, with each project, to really enrich the landscape surrounding contemporary art — not just for our audience here in Jacksonville, but also to add to the national conversation about contemporary art,” Polednik says.
With the color white as inspiration, this display has a different atmosphere than those of the museum’s previous shows.
“Part of our goal over the given year is to create a balance of exhibitions with different visual and experiential qualities within our installation space,” says Polednik. “WHITE is a much more cerebral project to a certain extent and much more architectonically driven. The galleries are sparse, the installation is very theatrical and so the mood in the museum has changed as a result.”