Color Chart

CHAPTER 3: Absence of color

From the Renaissance to the 20th century, statues from ancient Greece and Rome were widely believed to be intentionally white. It wasn’t until after scientists and archaeologist discovered small amounts of pigment that they concluded these works were brightly colored. It changed people’s perception of the ancient world and future scholarship. Imagine Portrait Bust of a Bearded Man and Head of Girl from 2nd century CE painted with skin tones and brown hair. An artwork that lacks color can carry the same impact of a colorful one. Louise Nevelson’s sculptural landscape, Dawn’s Presence – Two Columns is assembled using discarded wood. The sculpture’s cohesiveness is conveyed through the use of white. Mary Corse applied white acrylic paint and glass microspheres to her untitled 1969 painting. If one looks closely, the painting shimmers. Finally, the stark black and white prints from José Chávez Morado’s Vida Nocturna de la Ciudad de México series capture dense noir-esque scenes in early twentieth-century Mexico City.

Portrait Bust of a Bearded Man


Portrait Bust of a Bearded Man
76.2 cm x 52.7 cm x 27.3 cm (30 in. x 20 3/4 in. x 10 3/4 in.)
Archer M. Huntington Museum Fund, 1980

Ancient Romans made portraits in sculpture to commemorate distinguished persons and to display their lineage. Prominent families proudly placed in their shrines the effigies of their ancestors who held public office or received special honors. The sitter of this work remains unknown. The contrast between the smooth face and the deeply drilled hair and beard, however, is characteristic of Roman portrait busts created in the late second and early third century CE. Works from this period are also noted for their naturalistic approach to portraiture.

This art object can not be displayed
Dawn's Presence - Two Columns

Louise Nevelson
Pereyaslav, Russia, 1899 - 1988, New York, New York

Dawn's Presence - Two Columns
Painted wood
294.6 cm x 170.2 cm x 78.7 cm (116 in. x 67 in. x 31 in.)
Purchase as a gift in memory of Laura Lee Scurlock Blanton by her children, 2005

Manhattan frequently inspired Louise Nevelson. She saw the city as a monumental and ever-changing sculpture. “All I need is to feel New York coming through the wall,” she told a reporter the year this work was first exhibited. Composed of found wooden objects from lower Manhattan and seen in the round, "Dawn’s Presence—Two Columns" evokes a city-like perspective; just as buildings in a skyline appear to shift as the viewer walks around them. Nevelson built her career on the color black, which first coated her monochromatic sculptures and wooden installations in the 1950s. She exhibited her first white-painted sculptural installation in 1960. The artist broke up the larger pieces of the installation and reintroduced them later as discrete sculptural works such as this—a frequent practice of hers. The artist first exhibited "Dawn’s Presence—Two Columns" in New York in 1976 as part of a larger work comprised of several loosely arranged sculptural towers. Nevelson explained, “If you paint a thing black or you paint a thing white, it takes on a whole different dimension. I feel that white permits a little something to enter . . . a little more light, just as you see it in the universe.”


Mary Corse
Berkeley, California, 1945 –

Acrylic with glass microspheres
275 cm x 276 cm (108 1/4 in. x 108 11/16 in.)
Gift of Mari and James A. Michener, 1979

Mary Corse intends for her monochromatic paintings to be immersive experiences. In 1968 the artist began a series of large-scale, white grid paintings, mixing acrylic paint with glass microspheres—a material used to give road signs and dividing lines their reflective look—to transform the flat canvas into a luminescent plane. The result encourages movement around the work’s surface, inviting us to engage with its projected light from a variety of angles and distances. Indeed, viewers must encounter it experientially, as it cannot accurately be captured in photographs. As Corse explained in an interview, “When I first started putting glass microspheres in paint, I was really putting the light inside the painting. I didn’t want to paint a picture of the experience of light—I wanted the painting to be the light experience itself.”

This art object can not be displayed

Image credit:
Richard Pettibone
Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe, 1973 (detail)
Acrylic and silkscreen on canvas, six panels
The Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin
The Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection: Fifty Works for Fifty States, a joint initiative of the Trustees of the Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection and the National Gallery of Art, with generous support of the National Endowment for the Arts and the Institute of Museum and Library Services, 2008