LA artist Pae White gives Beverly Center a facelift

The Beverly Center’s interior recently received a facelift -- in the form of two giant installations by contemporary artist Pae White. She’s known for her hanging mobiles and mixed-media exhibitions. Her work is in the collections of LACMA and The Hammer in Los Angeles,  plus MoMA in New York and the Tate Modern in London. 

Her Beverly Center installations are five-stories tall. They run next to the mall’s two sets of escalators.

Detail of Pae White’s neon installation. Credit: Fredrik Nilsen. 

One installation, “Day for Night for Day,” faces Beverly Blvd. and features more than 900 twisted neon tubes. The tubes' varying colors represent daylight.

“My goal was to create a giant seasonal affective disorder lamp for Los Angeles. So like a hyper sun for a city that doesn't really need it, but just sort of speculating on that. But it is technically white. … It's actually a series of whites,” she explains. 

Detail of Pae White’s neon installation. Credit: Fredrik Nilsen. 

She says the tubes are inspired by Persian rugs, welcome rugs, and “flying carpets” -- residue from an old project that didn’t happen. “We had all these designs. And I thought, well, how do we resuscitate this? Because I was kind of bored with the design anyway. We just databased all the pieces and scrambled them.”

The second installation, called “Moonsets for a Sunrise,” faces La Cienega Blvd. They're geometric circles in colors  resembling the night sky. 

Pae White’s tile installation. Credit: Fredrik Nilsen. 

Detail of Pae White’s tile installation. Credit: Fredrik Nilsen. 

“This piece is really attempting to talk about moonlight in different types of moons, and also transition the moonlight into other types of moonlight. … So we have a harvest moon that transitions into a blue moon, which transitions into a strawberry moon, and then goes into a snow moon,” she says. 

Each unique moon is made up of four tiles. In total, there are 73,635 pieces of tile glazed in more than 100 colors.

“We did a lot of color tests, chose 100 colors, and then threw in three metallics. We have a platinum, a copper, and a gold just to add another layer of reflection and another layer of story about moonlight. And we mapped everything out with the computer program, where we were able to not get any repeat,” she says. 

Pae White. Credit: Enrico Fiorese. 

What should people look at? 

As people are going up and down the escalators, White’s art is on one side while the view of LA -- through the mall's glass -- is on the other. Does White want people to look at her art instead? She suggests no.

“I don't think it needs to have a big, huge presence. And I think that's what you get when you have this kind of overall-ness, that there isn't a hierarchy, that there isn't any kind of central focus,” she says.   

She continues, “It’s like you don't necessarily know it's there, but you know when it's gone. And that these things become part of your molecules. … My hope is that it just becomes part of your background.”

Witnessing change, having faith in the city 

White grew up in Pasadena and sometimes trekked to the Beverly Center in West LA. 

“It’s really interesting to see something that you know so well … and it kind of fell to the side, and then to see this new illumination … there’s a lightness. There’s this kind of gesture that I think is important, this kind of belief in the city, belief in brick and mortar. There’s a belief in making that kind of investment … and reflected in the architecture. … The building itself, it’s nice to see that kind of faith,” she says.

Public v. private art 

White says she has a different thought process when making art for the public versus for private consumption, such as in a museum, gallery, or someone’s home. 

“In the case of the Beverly Center, and in the case of anything that I do that's a large-scale public commission, I take into account all of the contingencies. … There's light coming here, and oh there's a viewer going at maybe this momentum,” she says. 

However, White points out that she usually doesn’t have a budget of several hundred thousand dollars in a smaller gallery situation. 

With a large-scale commission, she’s able to do things she’s never done. “I'd never worked with tile before. And I always wanted to. And I have a friend in Mexico with a tile company. … This feels really desirable for me because these contingencies of wanting to work with tile, having an in with the tile guy -- these are the things that I take into account.” 

She adds, “Especially in a large-scale public situation, you have to get all those variables squared away because mistakes are very expensive. And you have to get the right engineers. And these are things I don't necessarily have to deal with in a more intimate sort of gallery situation.” 

-- Written by Amy Ta, produced by Rosalie Atkinson