Contemporary artist Pae White transforms the Art Institute of Chicago’s Modern Wing with Restless Rainbow

American artist Pae White (b. 1963) has created a work for the Bluhm Family Terrace of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Modern Wing. White’s Restless Rainbow (2011) is a commissioned, site-specific installation that, for the first time, uses this dramatic outdoor space not as a platform for sculptural objects but as the work itself. Restless Rainbow, White’s first presentation at the Art Institute, is on view through September 2011 and is free and open to the public.

Pae White’s diverse work engages in art, architecture, and design to heighten the experience of site and context. Having grown up in the late 1960s and 1970s in the “Modernist mecca” of southern California, where she still works and lives, she has a visual vocabulary that draws from a broad range of influences that run from consumer culture to “high” art – Eames furniture, Vera Neumann scarves, and Milton Glaser graphics among them.

Restless Rainbow (2011) takes the question of site as its primary concern. For this work, White draws on her interest in and knowledge of graphic design, textiles, and animation to wrap the terrace in a vibrantly coloured and energetic abstracted pattern, as if a rainbow had fallen from the sky. From the surface of the floor to the tops of the glass walls, the Bluhm Family Terrace becomes a completely activated site in and of itself.

Restless Rainbow inverts the traditional act of “looking out” from the terrace – at the Chicago skyline, Millennium Park, and the lakefront – and instead invites visitors to enjoy it as its own immersive space, fully alive through the use of colour, line and texture. White’s bright palette envelops viewers on the terrace and attracts visitors from the street, throwing the brilliant space of the terrace into high relief against the surrounding limestone and glass museum, the steely cityscape, and the deep blue of the sky and lake.

White was deeply inspired by the space of the terrace itself and its openness to the sky above, leading her to imagine the fate of a “restless rainbow”: what if a rainbow were composed of a different color spectrum? What would a rainbow look and feel like if it fell from the sky? How could a rainbow be contained within a finite space instead of the limitless expanse of the sky? The Bluhm Family Terrace becomes just such a space, brought to life as a riot of colour and play. 

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