Saturday, January 22, 2011

White Flights

White, like black, always works: Ever flexible, always relevant for whatever the circumstances or culture. As the universal symbol of opulence and purity, it's both the Taj Mahal and the bride.

The quintessential Ferrari will always be red. But the Rolls Royce, it owns the white.

A white room is the picture of serenity, a place for serious and elegant contemplation, for deep breaths and clearing minds. One not befitting ex-husbands or children.

An invitation to the sun: A nook for nourishing the soul as well as the body.

White represents not only the absence of hue but of noise. It's a visual silence. Its effect is both quiet and quieting.

White would come to represent humanity's highest aspirations. With the increase of the scale of the state so too the desire for architectural white. The great pyramids of Egypt were once encased in white limestone as were the temples of Greece in white stucco. And more recently, there's The White City of Tel Aviv. A more contemporary palace above, one probably not designed for communion with the gods though Aphrodite and Dionysus would surely be at home there. As would no doubt Telete (a spirit who presided over orgies; I Googled it) and a yard teeming with nymphs and satyrs.

A chair and table wrapped in an elastic white PVC covering by designer Jurgen Bey, part of the Krokon Furniture collection. See more here.

Chairs and chandeliers reimagined in white.

And the art: White sculpture by way of Louise Nevelson (White Vertical Water, 1972): The noise of the underlying structure is buffered under many coats of white paint;

White painting by Jasper Johns (White Flag, 1955): An icon whitewashed over and all that it implies;

Sol Lewitt (Four-sided Pyramid, 1997);

Agnes Martin (Morning, 1965: graphite pencil grid on white acrylic): Martin described the painting this way:
I was painting about happiness and bliss and they are very simple states of mind, I guess. Morning is a wonderful dawn, soft and fresh.”
The hard part was knowing what to leave out, she would say.

Below, Kazmir Malevich (Suprematist Composition: White on White, 1918) and the painting that was to be one of the many the end of painting” paintings.

Robert Rauschenberg with White Painting, 1951: White house paint covering a series of stretched canvases, Rauschenberg too was accused of bringing a premature death to painting. His friend composer John Cage saw something else. He called the paintings
airports for shadows and for dust, but you could also say that they were mirrors of the air.” Cage, a committed practitioner of Zen Buddhism, found much appeal in the painting's blankness as a foundation for contemplation. Inspired by Rauschenberg, Cage went on to famously compose his own white canvas in "music" with 4:33, music as an interval of silence (the piece was as long as the title indicates). The composer spoke of wanting to create something with the color and shape or fragrance of a flower, a blank canvas for contemplation and experiencing the moment. (No doubt, most audiences heard only silence.)

His whiteness: The young Rauschenberg before his canvas. Interesting to note how the gallery chose to blacken the walls behind the piece, perhaps to louden up the silence some.

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