Is white a color, or is white the absence of color? The interior design industry would say it’s the former; Benjamin Moore alone offers more than 150 shades of white, from Minced Onion to Mayonnaise. (Scanning the paint aisle at Home Depot often makes me hungry.)
I would assume that Jessie Laura, the northern California artist currently exhibiting solo at the Coral Springs Museum of Art (“Visual Whispers,” running through Aug. 13), believes it’s the latter. While I can’t tell you if Laura deploys Chantilly Lace or White Dove varieties, she only uses white.
The artist’s m.o. is as monochrome as it is minimalist—stripped bare of color, of representation, of pretension. Inevitably, her geometrically precise mixed-media works and site-specific installations blend with the white pillars and walls of the gallery, so that the entire room carries of the air of a bridal sanctum or a meditation retreat. It’s the art world, a community often associated with razzle and dazzle, confronted with a Zenlike reductionism. “Visual Whispers” is such a frill-free exhibition that when Laura deploys mirrors in her incandescent work “Leap,” it feels like an extravagant material addition. Don’t be surprised if, while you’re perusing the exhibit, you find that your heart rate has slowed.
Laura’s work can be inscrutable in its rigor, conjuring the floor installations of Carl Andre and the visually challenging Op Art innovations of the 1960s. What to make of “Sol’s Grid,” with its 60 or so identical posts cryptically sprouting from the hardwood floor of the museum like ears of corn? We fumble for visual clues from everyday life among the artist’s squares within squares and circles within circles.
“Nothingness but shining,” arguably Laura’s magnum opus in this exhibition, features thousands of painted wooden nubs forming a circle on the wall, some tightly packed, others spread out. It could be an atom or a planet, but whatever it is, it carries a cosmic heft, and it plays the sort of tricks on the eye normally facilitated by psychedelic substances. Keep staring at it, and the individual fragments wriggle and throb. In “Nothingness I,” its shapely cousin presented under LED light, the nubs seem to be dancing.
Implacable as they often are, Laura’s installations are not necessarily devoid of whimsy. In “Wave,” an undulating series of rings emerging from a wall, I detected a curvy Slinky—a childhood toy distilled to its essence and frozen in mid-use.
A three-minute video of Laura exploring and explaining her process is included in “Visual Whispers,” and it reveals that she practices what she preaches. Her studio, too, is all white. So are her clothing and the frames of her glasses, suggesting that colorlessness is a lifestyle as well as an artistic practice.
Van Gogh famously saw colors that weren’t there, and painted the feverish, impossibly vibrant world that existed in his mind. Laura takes away the colors that are there for an equally idealized vision. With the distractions of visual noise filtered out, the result is a cocoon of tranquility.
“Visual Whispers” runs through Aug. 13 at Coral Springs Museum of Art. Admission is free. The museum is open Tues.-Thurs. from 9 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., and Mon., Fri. and Sat. from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. For information, call 954/340-5000 or visit coralspringsmuseum.org.