“Achromatic” is an exhibit that opened Oct. 1 at the Barbra Crawford Gallery on the campus of Springside Chestnut Hill Academy (SCH). It has been curated by Melissa Maddonni Haims, a local sculptor and curator and an SCH parent (of Noa, class of ’21). Achromatic, which is color without hue, can refer to black (the result of the absence of light), gray (its median) and white, the absence of color.
This exhibition highlights the work of 11 female artists from around the country. Conceived in 2016 and debuted in 2017 at Mount Airy Contemporary, this new iteration will consist of additional work by each woman who was invited to create pieces using only the color white. The result is a larger and more robust exhibition that shows a comprehensive body of painting and sculpture currently being made by women in the U.S.
The primary focus of the exhibit is to highlight the use of fiber, although many of the women are not textile-based artists. The challenge of using materials that are out of their normal purview — while keeping the majority of the work in shades of white — was an onerous task for some.
The color white, and its variations, generally represents purity, innocence and wholeness. White contains an equal balance of all the colors of the visible spectrum, representing both the positive and negative aspects of all colors. Its basic feature is equality, implying fairness and impartiality, neutrality and independence.
According to Haims, “In 2015 I developed the (all-white) concept for the exhibition after being asked to curate a fibers show at Mount Airy Contemporary. As a full-time sculptor and part-time curator, I’m constantly attending contemporary art fairs, galleries and museums. Curators usually pair artists working in the same materials around a theme. I was interested in challenging that norm and asked artists to create work out of their normal realm of comfort.”
For artists, working in white can pose many challenges: hanging white artwork on a white wall, photographing white on white and the mutability of electric light and natural light while creating work. When showing a white painting in a gallery, it tends to be overlooked in favor of other works in brighter colors. But in Achromatic, the viewer is forced to confront a gallery full of the absence of color along with its exciting range.
“I have known each of these artists for between two and eight years and have admired their work from up close and afar,” said Haims. “I invited 13 women to create work specifically for this show, and 10 women agreed, which was both exciting and flattering.”
Domestically speaking, for women artists, homemakers and mothers, white represents cleanliness and attention to detail. If your whites aren’t white “enough,” then they must be dirty. We are encouraged to use caustic chemicals to “make our whites whiter.”
We whiten our teeth. We only wear white between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Throughout history religious leaders, doctors and nurses only wore white. We were taught as children that “Cleanliness is next to Godliness.” In Victorian England upper class white women pursued even whiter skin, a symbol that their privilege never left them working in the sun.
Eva Heller, the German writer and social scientist who wrote “Psychologie de lacouleur-effets ets symboliques” in 2000, found that when people in the U.S. and Europe were surveyed about color, they associated the color white with perfection, the good, honesty, cleanliness, the beginning, the new, neutrality and exactitude.
Ms. Haims encouraged the women selected to create work specifically for this show to use shades of white in order to confront the norms associated with the absence of color. “Because the suggestion that white can make an object or a person delicate, clean and perfect is, in modern times, absurd. There is no such thing as perfection,” Haims said. The results are dramatic and compelling. The range of color within the boundaries of “white” invites the viewer to experience the vicissitude and subtlety of the work.
(“A white lace curtain on the window was, for me, as important as a great work of art. This gossamer quality, the reflection, the form, the movement. I learned more about art from that than I did in school.” — Louise Nevelson)
An artists’ reception will be held Thursday, Oct. 11, 5-8 p.m. The exhibit will run until Dec. 12. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org