White isn’t ever a pure thing, white is always tinted in some way.
Elizabeth Sherman, Assistant Curator at Whitney Museum of American Art
The use of white monochrome has different explanations in the art history; however, there are two primary use and associated meaning: the first was communicating spiritual purity; by choosing one colour, artists could explore the tranquillity of total abstraction. The second purpose was to reduce the painting or sculpture to its purest form so that the focus of the piece would be on its pure physical elements.
The first artist to use the white color in a different way was Kazimir Malevich in 1918 with White on White: a geometric abstraction without reference to external reality. After Malevich, a whole variety of white paintings came about, especially during the decade of the 1950s, this as a response to Abstract Expressionism’s emotional excesses and the outsized gestural personalities of De Kooning and Pollock.
"The strength of white canvases lies in the attention required by the observer: they require you to slow down, to look closely several times, to inspect the painted surfaces in search of subtle changes in color, light and texture", explains the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The commitment and the necessary involvement by the observer is the key to understanding all these white paintings, also explains Elisabeth Sherman, assistant curator of the Whitney Museum in New York, dedicated to contemporary art. White, Sherman recalls, "is never something absolutely pure, it is made of a variety of pigments: white as matter and light".
While paintings and reliefs here selected all use white, or a range of near-white hues and demonstrate how such an apparently reduced range of possibilities can be employed.
Far from limiting artists, the decision to restrain themselves to a single colour can open up a rich and versatile area of investigation. This specific approach draws attention to a variety of techniques, materials, textures, surfaces, structures and forms, and emphasises the responsiveness of white to light and shadow.