14 Mar

ArtBTheatreTitleMore dramatic readings of the worst artist statements, gallery press releases and art criticism every week, except when I don’t do them every week.

Do you like soil? Are you interested in the self? Not soiling yourself. That’s a different thing. No, this is how one of the artists describes his oeuvre as represented in an exhibition of South Korean artists at Mindy Solomon Gallery in Miami. For the purposes of this week’s reading I’ve mashed up several of the artists’ statements into one incoherent whole. In as much as one can generalise, I’ve rarely come away disappointed from exhibitions by South Korean artists. Whatever the Korean equivalent of je ne sais quoi is, I think many of them have it. Google unhelpfully translates je ne sais quoi as eotteon 어떤, “any”. Yes, Korean artists have any. Thanks Google, you arsehole.

Where was I? I think Korean artists are generally quite interesting, and even if they weren’t I’d usually give them some slack for writing in a foreign language because I sure as hell couldn’t write one in Korean. However, since this gallery is in Florida that consideration is not relevant because the gallery is responsible for making sure their publicity material, catalogues and interpretation texts don’t inadvertently make foreign artists sound like imbeciles.

Talking of imbecility, one thing that probably can’t be put down to translation issues is yet again an artist expressing open disdain for thinking and a concomitant lauding of just doing whatever. Artists used to be renowned for their intelligence and deep thought, didn’t they? When (and why) did it become OK for artists to sneer at thinking? This anti-intellectualism is particularly weird and dissonant when it so often sits right alongside the current fashion for artists to cloak themselves in language that apes social science, physics, psychology and so forth.

Let’s play Artbollocks Bingo!

Ree Soo-Jong says of his pots, in his own words: ‘My work happens through manual kneading of soil, showing its natural, raw aspects and calling for viewers’ instant reflections on the work. Through the unification of soil and self, I intend to reach a primitive essence. The refreshing fascination with nature through soil provides an infinite sense of lifeforce, and also a positive significance to my own life. My work begins with the touching of soil. I think of myself as a very sensitive person who spends more time working rather than thinking; thus, I don’t really care so much about the outcome of my works. Whatever it comes out to be, whether a jar or a human form, the important thing is not the result but rather the breath-like act of rubbing soil and my devotion toward it. It is undeniable that giving real significance to the act of creating itself provides the most delight and meaning for me.’

One of the phrases that should never under any circumstances appear in an artist’s statement or press release is “I don’t really care.” The whole second half of this paragraph raises the question of why we should care or pay any attention to an artist who admits to not caring what we think, and not being bothered at all whether he produces anything provided he can be left alone with his dirt and the touching and the sensitivity.

He actively shows work and is collected in Korea and worldwide, including [blah blah blah].

Woo! He actively shows work! Unlike all those boring artists who passively show work by leaving it face down on the floor in a cellar behind a locked door in the hope that someday a random human will stumble upon it by accident. Incidentally, his work is collected. He isn’t collected.

Regarding his ceramics, HunChung Lee states: ‘Travel is both the source and purpose of my work. Usually I travel into the past space and time of human beings through my eyes, heart, and work. In these travels, I bring a value to my humble existence as a member of the human race and my role in the Korean culture. The journeys are very sweet, but to taste this sweetness, travelers are required to overcome the unbearable pain of chaos and temptation of corruption which entices them like a mirage. For me, the world is like a swift current, while the inside of my body is calm pond. I can still remember vividly balancing on a seesaw [as a child]. Today, I enjoy the slow and calm balancing between the head and the heart, the swift current and calm pond… Playing on a seesaw, we cannot feel the subtle changes of the world without an effort to balance. Even the seesaw requires both tension and rhythm.’

Hold the fucking front page, we’ve got a bona fide time traveller here. The second half with all the seesaw stuff reminds me of Forrest Gump. If the main influence on your adult life is something that happened to you one time when you were six, you’ve got a problem of one sort or another.

Having been brought up in urban South Korea, Wookjae Maeng has had profound experiences with wildlife during his stays in North America. ‘The theme of my work is to represent the complex, ambiguous, and uncomfortable relationship between man and animal. Nature and animals have been an object of art for a long time. And, they will continue to be so until the fall of man, although the point of view is ever-changing. There are many living creatures on the earth. The human is on the top of the ecological pyramid now and can manage all kinds of fellow creatures. However, the environmental situation continues to worsen, and that tension is what I wish to explore.’ In the long tradition of artists making work to communicate thoughts and feelings about the social issues of their time, Maeng hopes to effect ‘small positive changes’ by fostering interest and stimulation on this present-day concern. He holds two BFA and two MFA degrees, and has been honored with awards, exhibitions, and fellowships in Hungary, Denmark, Canada, and the US.

To paraphrase Oscar Wilde via Lady Bracknell, to hold one MFA may be regarded as a misfortune; to have two looks like carelessness. Shouldn’t you stop doing degrees and actually live? Maeng sounds a bit like the Londoners who think an hour’s drive out of the city puts them firmly in the rural wilderness, and their minds are blown by a cow in a field or a magpie sitting on a fencepost. I imagine him enraptured for hours by some raccoons raiding a dumpster behind a suburban McDonalds.

In her densely layered paintings, artist Sungyee Kim incorporates the principles of I Ching with the Taoistic pursuit of becoming one with material as in the Transformation of Things, the Buddhist concept of the whole universe within a single dust particle and the sword-polishing spirit of traditional metal-smiths. The result of these repetitive yet unique gestures of layering and erasing is an aesthetic residue which visualizes a consistent mind of self-cultivation. In both form and content, her paintings enact the coexistence of material presence and illusion, reflecting the inherent connectedness of microcosm and macrocosm. She says: ‘The incomprehensiveness of nature is the reason why all questions and communications start. We do not have any plausible answer to what life is, but we cannot stop thinking and talking about it. A good artwork can only show the endeavor to reach the answer. Rather than pursuing the trend in expression of social and political stance, my paintings aim to hold the mirror up to our spirit like pure, plain and tranquil water. Ambiguity of structure requires active perception, which originates from a viewer’s own desire but is also consistent with what I achieve. My paintings aim to achieve philosophical, spiritual understanding of order in nature via a visual art form.’ Her work has been exhibited throughout Korea and the US.

Without even seeing them, I can tell you now that her paintings don’t “enact the coexistence of material presence and illusion, reflecting the inherent connectedness of microcosm and macrocosm” because this is bullshit. Maybe if somebody just explained to her what life is, preferably in words of two syllables or less, she might be less confused about everything else.


  1. anitachowdry 14/03/2014 at 11:44 AM #

    Thanks for another entertaining and mordant post Mr. Gentry!

  2. Alistair 19/03/2014 at 6:23 PM #

    Reblogged this on Alistair Gentry.

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