What you see: Widow of a King, a 2006 work by artist Pae White. Heritage Auctions estimates it at $15,000 to $25,000.
The expert: Brent Lewis, director of design at Heritage Auctions.
Is this piece unique, or part of a limited edition? From what we understand, three versions were made, and each of those is unique.
How do the other two differ? From a few images I’ve seen, they’re very similar, but slightly different in the design of the faux carving.
Do we know why Pae White named this piece Widow of a King? I don’t know the story on that. I think she uses an evocative title to suggest a background for it that could not be immediately obvious. This is very atypical of her oeuvre. Pae White is an artist in the true sense of the word. She is not a designer. She typically does not make functional objects.
Do we know why she made Widow of a King predominantly white? The material she used, Corian, is produced in various colors, but its primary color is white. She’s been quoted as saying she wanted to source blue Corian, but it wasn’t available, so she used white. She worked up the conceptual side of the piece in white, and she has said, “I wanted the “look” of something that might have been carved in the Black Forest but by an albino alien and I think we came pretty darn close.” If you look at it from a distance, it looks like it may be a traditional four-poster bed that’s carved and may be painted white. As you approach, you see the way it’s carved is different. The carving itself is off and almost degraded. You can tell there’s something else going on with the piece once you begin to examine it.
Why is one of the headboard posts taller than the other? It’s part of what I described of her intentionality. It [the work] is an object that has an inherent unbalance. She talked about wanting to subvert the viewers’ relationship with everyday objects.
Do the symbols on the footboard have any particular meaning? Not to my knowledge.
Do we know why she used Corian? And how involved was she in its creation–did she do the physical work of producing the bed, or did she delegate it? I didn’t see anything [that explained why she used Corian]. She’s a mixed-media artist who doesn’t typically work in this manner. I’m not aware of other works in Corian. Everything was done under her watchful eye. It was made with the assistance of sophisticated machinery.
Widow of a King is an actual bed, but what size is it? And did the consigner use it as a bed? I think it’s a king-size. And yeah, the owner did use it as a bed.
Widow of a King has signs of use. Will that matter? No. I think that any of that can be conserved quite easily.
Is Widow of a King among the earlier pieces by the artist to reach the secondary market? Not a great deal of her work has come to auction. I count 25 auction records on Artnet, with the record being $20,000 in 2013, sold at Christie’s, and titled Skygazing #6: Blue Nebula. It’s a large cotton and polyester work.
Is that record work anything like Widow of a King? No. Nothing like this by Pae White has sold at auction.
What is Widow of a King like in person? It’s incredible. It’s extraordinary, it’s complex, it’s multi-layered, and it has extraordinary physical presence.
We’re seeing the work as an incomplete bed frame, with no mattresses or sheets. Does the artist have any recommendations for finishing it? I don’t think there are any, but it was created to be a functional bed. Its impact would be complete when it’s installed in a domestic setting.
Are there details that don’t show up well in the photo? The fine carving on the posts. I think there is an intangible quality to the carving on the headboard and the footboard.
How does the carving hold your attention? It’s beguiling. It’s beautiful, but in an unexpected way. As I explained earlier, when you first come upon it, it’s traditional. As you approach it, you look for the carving techniques you’re accustomed to. When you get up close, the carving may be sharper and more asymmetrical where you would expect a more balanced pattern. It throws you off balance, but allows you to enjoy the object itself.
Widow of a King is a work of contemporary art, but you decided to put it in a design sale. Was that a tough call? There was debate, but in the end we felt it was pretty clear-cut where this piece should be positioned. Pae White is an artist who doesn’t make design objects and is not known for making functional objects. Because of the functionality, it may have a stronger market in design than in contemporary art, where you normally see her work. From time to time, contemporary artists make works that have a functional aspect, like this bed. Sometimes they’re successful from a design standpoint, and sometimes they’re less successful. I think this is very successful. The quality of the material used and its production is very high, but the intentionality that’s prevalent in it clearly comes from the place of the artist. It’s what makes this piece stand apart. It’s an accomplished piece of furniture, but you can look at it as a work of art.
Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Heritage Auctions.
Would you like to hire Sheila Gibson Stoodley for writing or editing work? Click the word “Menu” at the upper right for contact details.