Can you paint a canvas white and call it art? Pondering why art museums hang white canvases and why they won’t buy one of mine.
The last time I felt this way was at the fantastic Hunter Museum of Art in Chattanooga. Before that was at the Menil Collection in Houston. I have even felt this way at the MOMA in New York.
This is how it feels: I meander through the galleries, passing the bright colors of Franks Stella or the nearly void canvases of Morris Louis, striped on the corners by a technicolor zebra. I see the target of Jasper Johns, and the bullseye of Kenneth Noland. There may be Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Can or Leichtenstein’s comic strip. Then I see it, a canvas painted all white. It may be solid white, merely streaked in white, or white on white on white. But it is simply a canvas painted white.
The Hirshorn Museum in Washington, DC, displays in one gallery three works which are all white, from three different decades. Now, it could possibly be said that painting a canvas white was innovative and cutting-edge at some point in time. But, three decades later, I must cry plagiarism throughout the curved galleries.
Perhaps it is required that museums display such works so that we may wonder to ourselves (or aloud) what the definition of art really is. Perhaps, the curators place these here to remind us that everything (or nothing) is, in fact, art. Could it possibly be their arrogance at work? Would they put these on the walls to remind us that they are the experts, they are art-smarter than us, and that we will never understand. Maybe I (along with others) fail to see the emotion in the paintings. Perhaps the white is angry, a delicate counterpoint to the angelic nature of the color white. Truly I think all that is bullpoo. The joke is on us, and the curators know it.
I think I could be convinced that there was art in these blank slates if they were creatively displayed. Seeing a white canvas on a solid orange wall might move me. If ten were displayed willy-nilly on one single wall, or if they were hanging from the sky like dangling ceiling tiles. Perhaps best of all would be an all-white scratch and sniff picture. That, dear friend, would be ART.
Until that is done, I will try my hand at this never-difficult and never-changing derivative medium. See how my proposal sounds.
Dear Monsieur/Madame Curator:
I would like to offer you a work for your museum. You may have seen a similar work elsewhere, but I can promise you mine is different, innovative even.
I thought you may enjoy a giant white canvas. Yet, like the surface of a store-brand factory-farmed egg it will be ever so slightly mottled with specks nearly invisible to the naked eye.
I have another version you may also prefer. It, too is painted white. But, instead of canvas, it is painted vellum, stretched across a frame of North Carolina oak. And do not think any white would do. It is cadmium white.
If you flip over this sheet of paper, it may help you envision how this would look. Just imagine that it is larger.
There is another masterpiece-to-be in my studio. It is a large canvas, 6 feet square, painted cloud white, with a small patch of eggshell, perhaps 6 inches square, in the lower corner. White on white. I call it “The Essence of Being a Man.” I am quite proud of the title.
I know there is a place for my work in your collection, even if you have to move one of your older white paintings to storage. You see, my vision is a sparkling, all-new vision, and, quite frankly, your visitors are tired of seeing the same all-white painting anyway.
Thank you for feeling the power of my vision. I look forward to hearing from you soon.