Morceau Accrochant is a hanging mobile installation consisting of 482 strands of string and silk-screened paper suspended from the ceiling to create a three-dimensional volume of dense colour and, what the artist has called, ‘an exploration of movement contained’ (quoted in Alex Farquharson, 'About the Exhibition', http://hammer.ucla.edu/exhibitions/detail/exhibition_id/63, accessed 9 June 2010). Each strand of polyester string is a composite of a long yellow portion to which a shorter red length is knotted. Five or six discs of colour-saturated paper are threaded onto each red section, creating a flurried mass that recalls both the applied and decorative arts as well as the Bauhaus functionality of the architect Walter Gropius (1883–1969). The variously-sized discs are two separate pieces adhered to create a bi-coloured unit, the top part of which has had a radial section excised. White envisions this shape as a stylized leaf, hoping with Morceau Accrochant to, ‘[capture] the incoherence of a swirl of leaves or the frenzy of birds into a freeze frame which would allow for further and deeper inspection. The stylization of the feathers into leaves and back to feathers again is maybe another way in which to get closer to the subject through some sort of caricature.’ (Email to Tate curator Evi Baniotopoulou, 29 October 2004, Tate Gallery Records.) Site specificity is integral to the artist’s hanging mobile, with the ‘footprint’ or shape of the installation often dependent upon the space it will occupy. At Tate, the installation has taken the form of a rounded triskelion symbol, the inlets of which White feels ‘transform the piece into a sort of implied symbol of some sort of forgotten magic’ (email to Tate curator Evi Baniotopoulou, 29 October 2004, Tate Gallery Records). The cluster of coloured paper discs occupy around 60 cm of vertical space and, hovering approximately 153 cm off the ground, encourage a phenomenological response from viewers.
In this work, White is in dialogue not only with the dualism of a large volume that collapses into itself, but also with various aspects of architecture. Recalling the artist John Baldessari’s assertion that ‘Los Angeles artists make work that can fit in the back of their car’, White explains that she ‘was interested in a degree of manageability; that [she] could make a piece that asserted so much volume, but could also fit in a shoe box’ (email to Tate curator Evi Baniotopoulou, 29 October 2004, Tate Gallery Records). The artist challenges the volumetric and architectural aspects of installation art by suggesting the concreteness of a sculptural object without creating it. As is characteristic of installation art, Morceau Accrochant encourages engagement from different axes, allowing viewers to enter the small inlets in the hanging mobile. The artist has explained that she named the work Morceau Accrochant or Hanging Piece in deference to the idea of these multiple axes, the viewer’s eyes travelling up and down the strings as his or her body traverses the boundary of the dangling shape itself (email to Tate curator Evi Baniotopoulou, 29 October 2004, Tate Gallery Records).
Though operating on a common imaginative principle, White’s mobile works deviate in size and form, affecting the viewer’s reaction in a subtle fashion. O R O S C O P O 2004 (UCLA Hammer Museum), for example, hangs extremely low to the ground, casting a dark shadow on the floor beneath and allowing onlookers to take in the mass of colour aerially. Another variable is added with Overneath 2005 (Milton Keynes Gallery), the hexagonal hanging shapes of which create a denser volume than the circular forms of Morceau Accrochant. These works have positioned her as one of the pioneering figures in a group of Los Angeles-based artists who became visible in the 1990s for their dissolution of the boundaries between art and design. However, the artist has made it clear that this is not her goal, saying:
I frequently come across references to my work in relation to the blurring of boundaries between ‘art and design’. This is not really an objective for me. I like to use the arena of the applied arts as raw material. Then I can play with the established assumptions of that object or method. The perceived transdisciplinary aspect of my work is less interesting to me than exposing the restrictive impulse to define disciplines in the first place.
(Quoted in Directions: Virgil Marti and Pae White 2007, [p.2].)
Looking at Morceau Accrochant, it is apparent that, without focusing on forming a nexus between disciplines, White still achieves just that. The design-base in this work stems from the artist’s childhood interest in the textiles of Vera Neumann (1907–93); in her wider practice it compliments other pursuits, such as catalogue design for another LA artist, Jorge Pardo (born 1963). Combined with her applied art sensibility is a refutation of the aesthetic autonomy born of the critic Clement Greenberg’s modernism, which imposed a nomadic quality on mid-century sculpture by rendering the plinth obsolete. White rekindles the relevance of art in context in more depth than has been seen since the mid-1970s, a point of interest shared by the British artist Cornelia Parker (born 1956), whose Thirty Pieces of Silver 1988–9 (T07461) is adapted in configuration to each new place in which it is displayed. For the first Tate exhibition of Morceau Accrochant, therefore, the artist made what she called, ‘slight adjustments to the piece that [reflected] the location of the installation’ (email to Tate curator Rachel Taylor, 16 February 2006, Tate Gallery Records).
White’s work has been deemed consonant with both the postminimalist sculptors of the mid 1960s and the conceptual artists practising between 1968 and 1972. However, the artist employs none of the anti-aesthetic strategies typical of both of these movements, emphasizing the decorative and highlighting her art with a lush, playful colour palette. Morceau Accrochant is more the grandchild of the whimsical mobiles of Alexander Calder (1898–1976), such as Mobile c.1932 (L01686) and Antennae with Red and Blue Dots 1960 (T00541), echoing his emphasis on nature and suspended movement. Moreover, one of the most salient elements of White’s work that separates it from the earliest site-focused art is the style with which she transforms materiality into a sensorial experience. Without succumbing to an overly precious application of the decorative, Morceau Accrochant remains an aesthetically and intellectually engaging sight for its viewers.
Alexander Farquharson, Pae White, exhibition catalogue, Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Cultural Center, Los Angeles 2004, [p.2], reproduced [p.5].
Vincent Pécoil, Ohms and Amps, Amps and Ohms: Pae White, exhibition catalogue, Centre d'Art Contemporain La Synagogue de Delme, Delme 2005, reproduced [pp.1 and 7–8].
Directions: Virgil Marti and Pae White, exhibition catalogue, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C. 2007.