Room guide: Colour

Keith Edmier, ‘Beverly Edmier 1967’ 1998
Keith Edmier
Beverly Edmier 1967 1998
© the artist, courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London

Naturalistically coloured dolls, mannequins, automata, and wax portrait figures are not included in the generally accepted version of Western art history, and polychrome religious statuary is on the lowest rung of the art hierarchy.

By and large, modernist works continue on with the ‘Greek prejudice’ – the neo-classical misconception that classical Greek sculpture was uncoloured. Modernist essentialism understands this colourlessness as one of the ‘truth[s] to materials’ it defended – the truth of archetypal, not specific, representation. Thus, a bronze or stone sculpture is left unadorned to reveal its ‘true’ colouration.

The sign for the timeless is monochrome. It isn’t until Surrealism, and later Pop art, that the truthfulness of an image is examined in relation to daily experience, either as a psychologically determined phenomenon, or simply as the by-product of culturally produced clichés. Truth is not a timeless given but a socially constructed fact.