If color can be the theme for a university library, then whiteness is the presence or absence of all themes–a crowded house of books and computers, or a single pale page, screen, stone or snow bank on which we project our visions.
Consider nature’s innocent whiteness–a bright day in the arctic where a polar bear hunts a white seal pup, and snow geese rise into the clouds. Many animals and plants are naturally white–a form that camouflages both predator and prey, attracts a mate, lures an insect, or remains an adaptive or genetic mystery at which we blindly gaze. Humans have always sought or created white objects, and this exhibit features, among many fine works, the brilliance of carved and polished ivory, the bright translucence of porcelain, the exposed contrasts of photography, and the white depths of marble sculpture honoring life and death.
In these works of art and in objects as ordinary as a bottle of bleach, whiteness also becomes a powerful signifier of sacredness, purity, innocence, cleanliness and civilization. Look at the seemingly innocuous collection of cleaners and whitening agents, then read the nineteenth-century Pears’ soap ad and its allusion to a white dominated world. Whiteness has long been constructed as racist ideal, wherein privilege and power belong to Eurocentric Caucasians and a white-washed society. Here we must deconstruct whiteness, as Jasper Johns, Robert Mapplethorpe, Sean Combs, Herman Melville, Toni Morrison and others have done in their lives and art.
Is it the bright blankness of whiteness that allows us to say so much about its effects on us? Or is it fullness that speaks white? Enter the pale with open eyes.
– Henry Hughes, curator
LOCATION: 2nd floor gallery
Curator: Henry Hughes