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Review: Pae White at 1301PE

June 5, 2009 | 12:30 am

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Over the last couple of decades, Pae White has made art out of almost nothing but thin air: a handful of cat whiskers affixed in a drop of glue, a spray-painted spider web set in resin and the shimmering reflections cast from a slab of mirrored Plexiglas sheets. At 1301PE, the light-handed artist continues her lighthearted gambit, transforming incidental things into instances of wonder that are ripe with delight.

What’s new is the delicate touch of melancholy. Smoke and leaves are the vehicles for White’s casually exquisite installation, which consists of woven tapestries, laser-carved sheets of brightly colored paper and hundreds of fake leaves, all made mechanically and many painted, stained and shaped by hand.

Each of the six door-size tapestries downstairs is made up of a Donald Judd-style stack of three, four or five photographic close-ups of smoke sinuously drifting as it dissipates and eventually disappears into pure blackness. The languor of David Reed’s paintings comes to mind, as does the romance of black-and-white movies, the illicitness of opium dens and the slinky glamour of Tom Wesselman’s larger-than-life pictures of lips opened and slowly blowing out puffs of nicotine-laced smoke.

Upstairs, a nearly 10-by-22-foot tapestry covers one wall with a single image of smoke doing its serpentine thing as it moves from right to left, bottom to top. Titled “Smoke Knows,” White’s woven image is a masterpiece of dazzling silvers, crystalline whites and luxurious blacks, every silky thread part of a drama both ordinary and out of this world.

Ten small works on paper feature single wisps of smoke. Each has its own atmosphere and personality.

Topping it off are piles of eucalyptus, ginkgo and sycamore leaves that look like the real thing, until you look closely and notice that those in “November Gutter Leaves, Pasadena” are made of canvas stretched over aluminum armatures and those in “Blackened, Screeching Leaves” are painted aluminum.

Nature and artifice almost never look this good together. But White wouldn’t have it any other way.

-- David Pagel

1301PE, 6150 Wilshire Blvd., L.A., (323) 938-5822, through June 20. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

Above: "Smoke Knows," tapestry. Credit: 1301PE

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