9th Gwangju Biennale: ROUNDTABLE

August 3rd, 2012

7 September– 11 November, 2012
Biennale Hall & other venues, Gwangju (Jeolla Province, South Korea)
Opening hours: Monday – Sunday, 9:00-18:00
Admission: 11,000 won

by Andy St. Louis

**This review originally appeared in ELOQUENCE Magazine (August 2012)

Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige, Circle of Confusion (2010). Courtesy the artists, The Third Line (Dubai), CRG Gallery (New York), and In situ Fabienne Leclerc (Paris).


First held in 1995, the Gwangju Biennale has long been a champion of contemporary artists working across all mediums and practices worldwide. The exhibition has solidified its reputation over the past decade, thanks in large part to the extraordinary lineup of accomplished curators that have guided its development over the years. This year, the 9th Gwangju Biennale is set to carry on this tradition of progressive and mindful stewardship with the appointment of six Co-Artistic Directors. Although each is a groundbreaking curator in her own right, as a collective curatorial entity these six women propose an unorthodox challenge to the more conventional curatorial approaches that have prevailed in the biennale’s history.

‘History’ has always played a key role in defining conceptual frameworks for the Gwangju Biennale’s exhibitions. Looking ahead to September and the 9th Gwangju Biennale, the question that looms largest for most people has been: how will this year’s exhibition continue to reinvigorate and engage with issues in contemporary art in ways that are fresh and relevant today? Faced with such a challenge, the exhibition’s Co-Artistic Directors have thrown open the curatorial conversation, abdicating the authority to endorse any single ‘officially-approved’ position. ‘ROUNDTABLE,’ the theme of this year’s biennale, is presented as a platform for open-ended collaboration, with the principal objective of arriving at a more qualified assessment and comprehensive interpretation of notions of the individual and the collective—a dichotomy that brings itself to bear on artistic practice as well as society in general.

Aki Sasamoto, Centrifugal March (2012). Photo Daisuke Yamashiro / Courtesy the artist

By its very definition, the social institution of the ’roundtable’ eliminates the conditioned visual hierarchies implied by other seating arrangements. In the context of discussion or debate, roundtables are considered neutral sites that enable interactions in which distinctions of social standing and authority are rendered null and void; in a circle, all criteria for establishing an ‘optimal position’ cease to apply. Taking this as its guiding principle, ‘ROUNDTABLE’ simultaneously describes the working relationship of the exhibition’s six Co-Artistic Directors, the conversational interaction of the exhibition’s various interrelated sub-themes, and the non-linear structure of the exhibition at large.

Discrete topics of interest—such as isolation, migration, mass communication, and the relationship between group trauma, memory and history—will be parsed from the exhibition’s wider conversation by the 90 artists and collectives (from over 40 countries) set to participate in ‘ROUNDTABLE.’ Collectively, they provide an impressive cross-section of contemporary artistic practice worldwide; individually, they reveal the variety of contexts that lead to qualified interpretations of the entire group as a collective unit. With so many individual perspectives converging within a common discursive space, there’s no guarantee that things will always go smoothly. According to the exhibition’s Co-Artistic Directors, conflict isn’t just a possibility, it’s an expectation. “The works may at times be in conversation or at times in opposition with one another,” they announced at a panel discussion hosted by the Tate Modern in June. “We have collaborated to create a platform where a shifting relationship between works and multi-faceted themes is possible, creating points of connection and conversation.”

This year’s exhibition aims to facilitate unprecedented levels of connection and conversation by providing access to more voices than ever before. Building upon the Gwangju Biennale’s historic commitment to supporting artists, ‘ROUNDTABLE’ addresses the increasing importance of process and locality in contemporary artistic practice by subsidizing more than 40 commissions for new work, 15 residencies and 11 performances. A cycle of symposiums known as Workstations gathers select groups of non-artist voices to offer insight from a distance, presenting alternate models for advancing the exhibition’s curatorial objectives. Online, ‘ROUNDTABLE’ hopes to engage global audiences via a series of E-Journals which explore a set of themes related to the biennale’s overall concept. The pledge to maximize access on all fronts applies at the local level as well, with the exhibition set to extend beyond Biennale Hall and into various spaces of cultural exchange across the city (including a cinema, traditional market and Buddhist temple). The result, it is hoped, will be an exhibition not only encouraging collaboration but indeed personifying it.

Sara Nuytemans, Observatory of the Self version 2.1 (2011). Courtesy the artist

The exhibition planned for this year’s 9th Gwangju Biennale is nothing if not ambitious. Heavy on concept and high in potential, ‘ROUNDTABLE’ refuses to shy away from the expectations part and parcel of Asia’s premier contemporary art exhibition. The six curators tasked with filling the tall order of history have taken the challenges and opportunities of working as a collective unit and incorporated them seamlessly into the very core of what the exhibition is all about. They have assembled a group of participating artists and collectives that is as strong as it is diverse, yet the question remains: will their work be able to cohere under the weight of the biennale’s high-stakes conceptual scheme? In the end, the litmus test will be to see whether the exhibition’s public is able—not to mention willing—to shoulder its share of collaborative responsibility that ‘ROUNDTABLE’ is depending upon. Results notwithstanding, this is precisely the sort of game-changing gamble required to effectively challenge the status quo, and a necessary one for the Gwangju Biennale to prove itself as an agent for progress in the 21st century.


A Gentil Carioca [Botner e Pedro + Fabiano Gonper] (Brazil) – Abraham Cruzvillegas (Mexico) – Adam Broomberg + Oliver Chanarin (UK/ South Africa) – Agung Kurniawan (Indonesia) – Ahn Kyuchul (South Korea) – Ai Weiwei (China) – Aki Sasamoto (Japan/ USA) – Ala Younis (Palestine/ Jordan) – Allan Kaprow (USA) – Allan Sekula + Noel Burch (USA) – Ana Husman (Croatia) – Andy Hope 1930 (Germany) – Anri Sala (Albania/ Germany) – Benjamin Armstrong (Australia) – Bibimbbap [Sang­‐hwa Park, Han‐byul Jang, Mae-­lee Lee, Han-­‐yeol Kim, Un Kang] (South Korea) – Boris Groys (Germany) – CAMP (India) – Choi Mi‐Yeon (South Korea) – Chosil Kil (South Korea) – Chris Marker (France) – Chto delat? / What is to be done? (Russia) – Craig Walsh + Hiromi Tango (Australia/ Japan) – Dane Mitchell (New Zealand) – Darinka Pop‐Mitic (Serbia) – Delaine Le Bas (UK) – Dick Verdult (Netherlands) – Do Ho Suh (South Korea) – Fayçal Baghriche (Algeria) – Fouad Elkoury (France/ Lebanon) – Gulnara Kasmalieva + Muratbek Djumaliev + ArtEast School for Contemporary Art, Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan) – Han Dong (China) – Haroon Mirza (UK) – Hyun Tack Cho (South Korea) – James Cahill (USA) – Jangarh Singh Shyam (India) – Jenny Holzer (USA) – Jeong-­lok Lee (South Korea) – Jihae Hwang (South Korea) – Joana Hadjithomas + Khalil Joreige (Lebanon) – Josef Dabernig (Austria) – Julia Dault (Canada/ USA) – Julieta Aranda + Anton Vidokle (Mexico/Russia) – Jun Yang (China/ Austria) – Jung Yoonsuk (South Korea) – Juyeon Kim (South Korea) – Kelly Schacht (Belgium) – Kim Beom (South Korea) – Kimsooja (South Korea) – Laurent Grasso (France) – Li Fuchun (China) – Li Ran (China) – Lu Yue (China) – Magnus Bärtås (Sweden) – Maha Maamoun (Egypt)  –  Maki Toshima (Japan) – Malak Helmy (Egypt) – Mark Bradford (USA) – Michael Joo (USA) – Mônica Nador (Brazil) – Moon Kyungwon + Jeon Joonho (South Korea) – Motoyuki Shitamichi (Japan) – Nasrin Tabatabai + Babak Afrassiabi (Netherlands/ Iran) – Nástio Mosquito (Angola) – Noh Suntag (South Korea) – Pedro Reyes (Mexico) – Poklong Anading (Philippines) – Porntaweesak Rimsakul (Thailand) – Rasheed Araeen (UK) – Rim Dong Sik (South Korea) – Rirkrit Tiravanija (Thailand) – Royce NG (Hong Kong/ Australia) in collaboration with Zebadish Arrington, Suhuu Goh + Soichiro Mitsuya (USA/ South Korea/ Japan) – Sara Nuytemans (Belgium) – Scott Eady (New Zealand) – Sejla Kameric (Bosnia-­‐Herzegovina) – Sheba Chhachhi (India) – Shuruq Harb (Palestine) – Simon Fujiwara (UK) – Slavs and Tatars (Eurasia) – Sophia Al-­Maria (Qatar) – Tintin Wulia (Indonesia) – Tobias Rehberger (Germany) – Tu Wei­‐Cheng (Taiwan) – U Sunok (South Korea) – Varda Caivano (Argentina) – Vertical Submarine (Singapore) – Wael Shawky (Egypt) – West Eastern Divan Orchestra (Israel/ Palestine/ Arab World) – Wolfgang Laib (Germany) – Wu Tsang (USA) – Xijing Men [Chen Shaoxiong, Gimhongsok, Tsuyoshi Ozawa] (China/South Korea/ Japan) – xurban_collective [Guven Incirlioglu + Hakan Topal] (Turkey) – Yerbossyn Meldibekov (Kazakhstan)

Rasheed Araeen, The Reading Room ZKM (1987-2011). Installation view from the exhibition "The Global Contemporary. Art Worlds after 1989" (2011) at ZKM, Karlsruhe. Photo Steffen Harms / Courtesy the artist and ZKM Karlsruhe


MOVE: Art and Dance since the 1960s

July 11th, 2012

6 June – 12 August, 2012
National Museum of Contemporary Art, Korea
Opening hours: Tuesday – Friday, 10:00-18:00; Saturday– Sunday, 10:00-21:00
Admission: 4,000 won

by Andy St. Louis

**This review originally appeared in ELOQUENCE Magazine (July 2012)

The National Museum of Contemporary Art (NMOCA), Korea is mixing things up this summer with an exhibition exploring the connections between art and dance by bringing together a remarkable lineup of international visual artists, choreographers and dancers. Thoughtfully curated and beautifully executed, ‘MOVE: Art and Dance since the 1960s’ is one this summer’s must-see exhibitions for creators in Seoul.

Courtesy the Forsythe company with the Biennale art Venice and the Ursula Blickle foundation / Photo by NMOCA

William Forsythe, The Fact of Matter (2009)

‘MOVE’ is an exhibition that seems to defy categorization. On one hand, it is history-heavy, documenting the work of many artists of the 1960s and 1970s who were responsible for pushing dance and performance beyond its traditional limits. Then again, it is not without contemporary context; roughly half of the works in the show belong to the 21st century, a great many of which were commissioned by the Hayward Gallery in London (home of the original ‘MOVE’ exhibition in 2010). It is an exhibition of objects and performances, with a critical quota of video works as well as a digital multimedia archive to support the exhibition’s conceptual framework. In short, ‘MOVE’ is the total package; engaging visitors on numerous levels and offering a comprehensive account of the interaction between art and dance—and everything in the middle.

The majority of the works in the exhibition open up direct communication with exhibition-goers by changing how they interact with their surroundings—restricting, liberating or guiding their movement. Bruce Nauman’s Green Light Corridor (1970) is an immersive installation designed to unpleasantly alter one’s equilibrium. Traversing this uncomfortably narrow passageway, visitors are forced to surrender to the physical limitations that intensify their awareness of the bodily self and sensory perception. Other works, such as Adaptation: Test Room Containing Multiple Stimuli Known to Elicit Curiosity and Manipulatory Responses (1999/2010) by Mike Kelley reverse this approach, drawing attention to the relationship between the body and its surroundings by encouraging open-ended interaction as a vehicle for self-discovery. Finally, works of a third sort—such as those by William Forsythe and Lygia Clark—guide or direct one’s movement and are perhaps the exhibition’s most readily accessible. The movements of museum visitors are required to activate these large-scale interactive installations and bring them to a state of fully-developed completion.

Courtesy the artist and Klosterfelde gallery Berlin / Photo by NMOCA

Christian Jankowski, Rooftop Routine (2008)

A superlative instance of this (in performance form) is Production (2010), created by Xavier Le Roy and Mårten Spångberg, activated continuously for the better part of each day in the museum’s Circular Gallery. In this ‘happening performance,’ the ephemeral nature of performance itself is taken as a conceptual basis. Production doesn’t stand on ceremony; it takes place within a nondescript and unoccupied area of the gallery and its participants (to call them ‘performers’ would not only be inaccurate, but also antithetical to the aims of Le Roy and Spångberg) could be easily mistaken for visitors to the exhibition. The resulting effect is an attempt to de-commodify dance and performance, challenging the artificial construct of choreography by essentially forsaking it as a systematized aspect of creative practice. Whereas improvisation in dance is nothing new, the participants in Production take the practice to a new level, opening themselves to—and indeed, encouraging—interruption by museum visitors. Spectators play an equal role in this ‘happening performance’ by initiating conversations with the dancers, who in turn drop what they are doing and engage in this new form of ‘improvisation.’

Photo by NMOCA

Trisha Brown, Floor of the Forest (1970/2012)

Dance performance, lest we forget, is a major component of the exhibition’s contents. On any given day, there are no fewer than nine different performances for visitors to take (part) in. Although ‘MOVE’ largely seeks to upset traditional rules of the performer-spectator relationship, in certain cases these conventions nonetheless prevail. This must not be interpreted as an ultimate capitulation to traditional avenues of dance performance, however. On the contrary, this is just one more example of how this genre-bending exhibition challenges its viewers to wrestle with the (often polemical) implications of the convergence of art and performance.

Do Ho Suh: Home Within Home

June 1st, 2012

23 March – 3 June, 2012
Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art
Opening Hours: Tuesday – Sunday, 10:00-18:30
Admission: 7,000 won


by Andy St. Louis

**This review originally appeared in ELOQUENCE Magazine (May 2012)

Arguably the most widely-known and critically-acclaimed Korean artist alive today, Do Ho Suh has achieved a level of international recognition most artists can only dream of. His dramatic installation-based work boldly engages the East-West divide, navigating the treacherous psychological territory of locating one’s identity within a globalized world. In ‘Home Within Home,’ the artist’s first solo exhibition in Korea since 2003, Suh invokes as much of his home-bred sensibility as he does of international know-how, resulting in a universally-understood but very individually interpreted exhibition experience.

Courtesy Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art

Seoul Home Seoul Home (2012)

‘Home Within Home’ is split between two galleries in Leeum’s special exhibitions wing (designed by Rem Koolhaas), with a third separate area devoted to screening documentary video about major works in Suh’s oeuvre that are not included in the exhibition. In the upstairs gallery, enclosed by Koolhaas’s floating ‘black box,’ is a diverse grouping of pieces in a variety of media—all of which address the concept of ‘home,’ but when taken as a whole, lack the knockout punch that has come to be expected of Suh’s work. Downstairs, however, is the exhibition’s real focal point: five installation pieces from Suh’s ongoing Home series (1999-2012).

These five remarkable works use translucent dyed cloth to recreate some of the homes inhabited by the artist during his life, giving viewers an unusually intimate glimpse into the artist’s domestic surroundings—from the hanok building in Seoul his family occupied in his childhood, to the towering facade of a New York brownstone, to the corridor of a railroad apartment in Berlin. While the visitor’s first impression is invariably one of amazement at the fastidious detail with which even the most mundane details are stitched in these to-scale models, upon reflection one begins to appreciate Suh’s more intimate preoccupation with our relationships to domestic spaces at large and the implications they suggest with regard to the artist’s nomadic lifestyle.

ⓒDo Ho Suh, 2012

North Wall (2005)

Suh is a self-described nomad, having been born and raised in Korea and subsequently receiving the bulk of his formal artistic training—advanced degrees from RISD (painting) and Yale (sculpture)—in the United States. Throughout his life, he has constantly been on the move—even as a child, his family changed residences multiple times—and he continues this embrace this nomadic existence to this day, as he continues to split his time between New York and Seoul. In spite of being ‘homeless,’ as it were, Suh is no aimless drifter, and his attachment to his Korean roots are a fundamental motivation behind his work. Indeed, much the work on display in ‘Home Within Home’ (the five Home installations in particular) can be seen as a contemporary recontextualization of the aesthetic ideals unique to Oriental painting—a discipline he is all-too-familiar with, considering the prominence and recognition of his father, Suh Se-ok, considered one of the last Oriental painters in Korea’s literati tradition.

One of the distinguishing features of Oriental—and especially Korean—painting is the quality of its lines, and by extension, their capability of expression. In the Home series, we encounter lines of a different sort; rather than describing a scene using ink on paper, they instead demarcate the edges of Suh’s domestic worlds in three dimensions. No matter how lifeless or insipid these (often) run-of-the-mill interiors may be, however, the suppleness and delicacy of the cloth used in their construction lends them a distinctly organic, hand-crafted and charming quality. Like a consummate painting in the Oriental tradition, the lines of Suh’s homes illustrate his sensitivity to balance and composition; whether stretched taut or hanging slack, textured with detailed stitching or left bare, the variations in line reflect the artist’s appreciation for this unmistakeably Oriental concern.

ⓒDo Ho Suh, 2012

348 West 22nd Street, New York, NY 10011, USA–Apt. A, Corridor and Staircase (2012)

Suh further honors the aesthetics of Oriental painting in his use of empty space—not only in his work, but also in the design and layout of the exhibition on the whole. The works in the Home series are as much about the empty space they circumscribe as anything, particularly when one takes into account the diaphanous translucency of their walls. The fabric itself plays a major contributing factor in fostering a sense of openness in viewers; even when inside one of these ‘structures,’ the surrounding gallery space remains in plain view, and vice versa. Installed in Leeum’s vast open-plan gallery space, these five installation pieces have plenty of breathing room, resonating with their overall sense of emptiness and resulting in an overwhelming sensation of balance and stability—the marks of an Oriental painting of the finest execution.


Bae Young-whan: Song for Nobody

April 3rd, 2012

City Hall
1 March – 20 May 2012 @ PLATEAU, Samsung Museum of Art
Opening hours: Tuesday – Sunday, 10:00-18:00
Admission: 3,000 won

by Andy St. Louis

**This review appeared in Eloquence Magazine (April 2012)

Pop music is a universal language with common currency and mass appeal the world over. It brings people together in its voicing of the human condition, stirring our hopes and dreams, consoling us in times of hardship, tugging at our heartstrings, and simultaneously offering a necessary escape from our most entrenched longings. This escape is always temporary, however—a condition that points at the nature of pop songs themselves. Their shelf life is limited and subject to the shifts in taste and hunger expressed by our society. At their best, pop songs set to words the sentimentality of our common cultural heritage.

Pop Song--Crazy Love (2006)

Bae Young-whan—whose rise to prominence began 15 years ago with his Pop Song series (1997-2002)—is the subject of a new mid-career survey entitled ‘Song for Nobody’ at PLATEAU. The human condition, reflected in pop music and similarly universally accessible cultural referents, is the subject of his captivating and often enigmatic work which uses a collective visual vernacular to convey messages contradictory to our culturally-conditioned preconceptions. In his Pop Song works, Bae repurposes the conventionally romantic and sentimental stylings of the genre to draw attention to the lives of people surviving on the margins of society. Developed over the course of three solo exhibitions early in the artist’s career, in ‘Song for Nobody’ these works are displayed in the exhibition’s very first section, and rightly so; the entirety of Bae’s artistic production has evolved from his initial consideration of pop songs as a mode of examining ourselves in relation to a larger social system, and the Pop Song series provides a crucial context for the artist’s later work.

The exhibition is prefaced with the artist’s newest work, Golden Ring—A Beautiful Hell (2012). This piece serves as an overture to ‘Song for Nobody’ and is a fitting distillation of the artist’s psychological development during his career thus far. Installed in the center of PLATEAU’s airy glass-enclosed atrium, this gilded boxing ring (constructed at roughly 1/3 scale) proposes a meditation on emptiness; not only in terms of the void enclosed by its ropes, but also in the obstacles to interpretation it presents as a stand-alone object. The atrium, which houses Rodin’s monumental bronzes The Gates of Hell and The Burghers of Calais, provides an unmatched setting for this type of contemplation. The space itself is a postmodern cathedral of sorts, and Golden Ring its high altar, albeit one absolved of any commonly-held belief system. Just as the moral of a fable cannot be fully appreciated until the story has been read, Golden Ring realizes its full expression only in the context of the exhibition as a whole.

Golden Ring--A Beautiful Hell (2012)

The latter half of the exhibition, which includes works from 2010 to the present, differs considerably from the rest of the show, and reveals the artist shifting his gaze ever inward in contemplation of his own humanity. This is the nature of any mid-career survey of an artist such as Bae, at a crossroads in his artistic practice and seeking new avenues of expression. In fact, this uncertainty in direction is one of the most captivating aspects of the exhibition, and it would be misguided to classify the artist’s oeuvre according to any single interpretation. Nevertheless, the exhibition literature offers up the following interpretation of the show’s allegorical title, ‘Song for Nobody:’ “a sincere ode to those marginalized ‘nobody’ [sic] in our society.” This is the curatorial equivalent of claiming one pop song to be representative of all pop music, rejecting the inescapable brevity that is essential to the health and continued relevance of the genre as a whole. The exhibition is more than a humble ‘ode;’ it is a ‘theme and variations,’ revealing the full range of Bae’s avenues of inquiry in search for a more perfect expression of his unique artistic vision.

March Listings

March 15th, 2012

Boy, oh boy … over 50 EXHIBITIONS listed this month!!

If you can’t be bothered to browse the comprehensive listings and would rather see the redux, here’s the SAF March Top 5:

Dansaekhwa: Korean Monochrome Painting @ NMOCA/Gwacheon

Suh Do-ho: Home Within Home @ Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art

Nayongim & Gregory Maas: There is No Beer in Hawaii @ artclub1563

Choi Ki Seog @ Gallery2

Michael Craig-Martin @ Gallery Hyundai

As always, head over to our listings page for the complete lineup (click HERE).

Q&O. Structures and Fragments at One and J. Gallery

March 6th, 2012

16 February – 7 March 2012
Opening hours: Tuesday – Sunday, 11:00-18:00

Form follows function—Originally fashioned in 1896 by the American architect Louis Sullivan, this succinct, alliterative catchphrase would go on to define the course of 20th century modernist architecture and design. Although considered little more than an empty cliché with limited contemporary applications among today’s creative circles, Sullivan’s mantra nonetheless continues to manifest itself in the groupthink of society as a whole; its pervasive effects have fundamentally influenced how we perceive the world around us and make ordered sense of it.

Anabel Quiriarte and Jorge Ornelas are two artists who operate as a single creative unit. True to the dialectical framework that informs its production, their work invites direct engagement with viewers and demonstrates a discursive faculty befitting its manner of creation. “Structures and Fragments” at One and J. Gallery presents this process at its apotheosis, in which even the most mundane objects—pencils, paper, scissors, books and cassette tapes—transcend their face value and perform a dressing-down of the conventional ways we comprehend the world.

Drawing Structure 3, 2012. Watercolor on paper. Polyptych 6 pieces (Courtesy One and J. Gallery)

In their watercolors, oils and installations, the Mexican artist duo Quiriarte + Ornelas base their consideration of objects on direct and unadulterated visual experience. Not only do they refrain from a functionalist approach to objects à la Sullivan; they shun interpretive readings altogether. Their relationship with objects is one in which function follows form, a back-to-basics framework almost always used to ascribe meaning to objects that are unfamiliar or foreign to our sensibilities. In spite of this, Quiriarte + Ornelas approach the very things they understand most intimately—the pencils, sketchbooks and other art-making tools they use day in and day out—with just such a methodology. Fraught with banality though these objects may be, they are not free of interpretation. Indeed, the more commonplace the object, the more difficult it is to mentally separate its physical attributes from the connotations they suggest. In order to effectively cancel out these connotations and isolate the image of an object from its corresponding idea, Quiriarte + Ornelas physically alter its appearance while retaining its essential nature as identifiable objects, reconfiguring objects as either fragments or structures.

“Structures and Fragments” does not require conceptual heavy lifting for the disinclined, however. Much of the exhibition is, in fact, playful; given its subject matter—from balls of crumpled paper and cassette tapes spiked through with pencils, to piles of books haphazardly strewn this way and that, to hundred of pencil splinters scattered on the floor—one might even go so far as to call the exhibition “whimsical” (or at the very least, “quirky”). The paintings are characterized by an almost insultingly direct manner of representation (naturalistic but well short of hyperrealism) as well as a compositional affinity for isolating their subjects within otherwise blank canvases, eliminating all traces of the figure/ground relationship. This aesthetic sensibility sheds light on the conceptual underpinnings of exhibition itself; though technically well-executed, these paintings convey a detached objectivity that renders them unable to meaningfully connect with viewers on the basis of their images alone. Their agency as images derives from the process of their creation rather than its results, blurring the boundaries between art-making and art in its own right.

Pencil 4, 2011. Oil on canvas (Courtesy One and J. Gallery)

The simplest of these constructions, unsurprisingly, are also the most visually arresting. Using nothing more than pencils speared through balls of crumpled paper, Quiriarte + Ornelas reach the apotheosis of their conceptual aims in their Drawing Structure series (2012). Although structural simplicity of the constructions allowing the brain to perceive the structure according to its component parts, efforts to infer any meaning from their composite sum is stymied. This cognitive conundrum works in reverse in the artists’ Pencil series (2011). Here, the “construction” comprises splinters of shattered pencils arranged at random on a flat surface, offering fragments presented independently their correspondent whole. Again, Quiriarte + Ornelas dispatch with the relative agency demanded of these constructions by the brain and instigate a reevaluation of tacit assumptions about meaning, context and form.


The exhibition is about more than just looking; it is about using what we see (rather than what we know) to inform our relationships with objects. Once the objects in “Structures and Fragments” are reconfigured in ways that neutralize their accepted functionality, they can be considered in a new light—one independent of outside interpretations. Sullivan’s “form follows function” is revealed to permit only a very narrow interpretation of most object, one which extends only as far as our preconceived impressions allow. When “function follows form,” as Quiriarte + Ornelas propose in this exhibition, the impressions of what we see are genuine and undistorted—objects as objects, and nothing more.

Structure: Wall 1, 2012. Watercolor on paper. Triptych (Courtesy One and J. Gallery)

February Listings

February 13th, 2012

It’s still winter in Seoul (sigh), but things are really beginning to heat up in the city’s art spaces. SAF’s top 5 highlights for the month are:

The City of Art: New York, 1945-2000 @ 63 Sky Art Museum

Being: Debbie Han 1985-2011 @ Sungkok Museum

Lee Jin Han: Postmodernism of the Beholder–Landscape of the Concept @ Alternative Space LOOP

1958-Ecole de Paris @ Shinsegae Gallery

Q&O. Structures and Fragments @ One and J. Gallery

Take a look at the complete art forecast for February over at our listings page (click HERE).


January Listings

January 6th, 2012

A new month, a new bunch of listings in Seoul! SAF’s top 5:

Borderless @ 313 Art Project

Whanki Kim @ Gallery Hyundai

Area Park – Way of Photography: Finding an Album in Miyagi @ Atelier Hermes

Korean Abstract Painting: 10 Perspectives @ Seoul Museum of Art

Mina Cheon: Polipop @ Sungkok Museum of Art

For the complete listings, click HERE.

‘David LaChapelle in Seoul’ at Seoul Arts Center

December 29th, 2011
Burning Down the House (Alexander McQueen & Isabella Blow) (1996)

22 November 2011 – 26 February 2012

Opening hours: Monday – Sunday, 11:00-19:00
Admission: 13,000 won

By Andy St. Louis

David LaChapelle. The name doesn’t trigger the same immediate reaction that others–say, Annie Liebovitz, Juergen Teller, Baron Wolman, or even Terry Richardson–might. David LaChapelle. To some, portraits of rock stars and celebrities on hte cover of Rolling Stone may come to mind. To others,the more fashion-oriented covers of Vogue and Vanity Fair. To few does high-concept/socially critical photography come to mind (if, indeed, anything comes to mind at all). And yet, this photographer, who is still very much in mid-career (he is 48), is gaining renewed insternational respect as more than a one-trick pony with an eye for best-selling magazine cover shoots. “David LaChapelle in Seoul” at Seoul Arts Center is a veritable trove of of visual delights—at nearly 200 works, it is the most comprehensive selection of the prolific photographer’s work ever seen in Asia—revealing the astounding ways in which LaChapelle’s visual output has transformed since he became a professional photographer while still in high school.

The themes and subject matter in LaChapelle’s work have changed considerably over the years, from his early work shown at galleries in New York’s East Village in the 1980s, to his cover and editorial work for fashion and lifestyle magazines, and more recently, work that resonates with the artist’s withdrawal from the “world” and subsequent retreat to his current residence in a cabin in the rainforest. Despite the radical turns LaChapelle’s career has taken over the past two and a half decades, the threads running through his enormous catalogue of images remain true to his own deeply personal worldview. The work that results inevitably falls into one of these four broad categories: mass consumption, fame, religion and the human form.

Death by Hamburger (2002), from the ‘Inflatables’ series

While still in high school, a teenage LaChapelle was “discovered” by Andy Warhol who offered him a job taking photos for Interview magazine. One can only imagine the profound influence that the so-called “father of pop art” must have had on the up-and-coming photographer, and it is no surprise that much of LaChapelle’s work examines the material culture that was at the center of Warhol’s own artistic practice. With a constant eye toward society’s excessive consumption, LaChapelle wields both humor and gravity to injurious effect in his oblique criticisms of human nature, subverting social conventions by placing his subjects in fabricated surreal environments. His Inflatables series (2002) adopts a humorous tack in its variation on the USA’s bigger is better mentality, marooning fashion models in the grips of super sized household products seeking vengance on their consumers.  Other images appropriate disaster and devastation to reflect a converse approach to the topic of consumerism, such as LaChapelle’s Destructions series (2005), where haute couture is stripped of its visual appeal by scenes of death and tragedy.

The artist’s disdain for consumerism is no doubt wrapped up in the subject matter that dominated his early career. Indeed, the work he is perhaps most widely known for is his celebrity portrait portfoliocharacterized by its images’ shock value, aesthetic intrigue and a hint of voyeurismplays directly into the mass market for which it was produced. Eminem, Britney Spears, Madonna, Tupak Shakur, Lil’ Kim, Naomi Campbell, David Bowie, Drew Barrymore, Angelina Jolie, and Lady Gaga have all been received the “LaChapelle treatment” over the years, and the photographer’s primary focus on this subject matter for so much of his career had a direct effect on the way he looked at the world. Society’s fascination with—and interconnected reverence for—celebrity evoked by these defining images must have struck a discordant note in the photographer’s perception of humanity, evidenced by his gradual departure from this line of work and turn to a more critical line of inquiry.

The House at the End of the World (2005), from the ‘Destructions’ series

LaChapelle frequently mobilizes religious imagery in his later work, mining its vast repository of ready-made mise–en–scènes for their characteristic formal qualities. This body of work, which largely dates from 2006 onward, abandons LaChapelle’s standard mode of social critique in favor of a much more subtle treatment of the issues revolving around veneration and piety. By appropriating ubiquitous religious motifs and reframing them in a modern context—Michelangelo’s Pietà, for instance, set in an archetypal children’s playroom, Courtney Love assuming the persona of the Virgin Mary (Heaven to Hell, 2006)the photographer communicates a pervasive sense of not-quite-right-ness indicative of his own loss of faith in humankind itself. Though celebrity figures such as Love occasionally appear in these images, they serve only to underline the artist’s concern with the power of images and the currency they exert over society. Interestingly, the figures that occupy these works are much more gestural than those of LaChapelle’s earlier days, hinting at an aesthetic maturity and return to nature. Nude, contorted, and imbued with either unrestrained pathos or absolute tranquility, they signal a sea change in the photographer’s artistic motivation and intellectual investment in his work.

Of course, it is the body itself to which this visionary photographer has unremittingly devoted his lifework, and it is this most empathetic of all possible subject matter that has given the most back in return. LaChapelle’s understanding of the human form and eye for capturing it at its most superlative—sensuous, grotesque, endearing, menacing, and all manner of emotional states—will always be his trademark. He is not merely an image-maker, documenting the human condition through his unique perspective, he is a purveyor of desire itself. The photographs are just the tools; we, the very consumers of these images, are the true objects of the photographer’s manipulation. This creator-consumer interaction is rare in its reciprocity; the audience is at once a third-party observer as well as the very apotheosis of LaChapelle’s ideological questioning. The result is an ongoing dialogue between the  images (and by extension, the artist himself) and their audience that give this gargantuan exhibition its essential intimacy.

Last Supper (2003) – from the ‘Jesus is my Homeboy’ series

City Within the City at Artsonje Center

December 8th, 2011

12 November 2011 – 15 January 2012
Opening hours: Tuesday – Sunday, 11:00-19:00
Admission: 3,000 won

by Andy St. Louis

**This review appeared in Eloquence Magazine (December 2011)

Artsonje Center doesn’t organize many group exhibitions―typically only one per year―so when such a rarity does present itself, it’s best to take note. Meticulously curated and thoughtfully conceived, the new exhibition at Artsonje Center tackles a theme with increasing relevance to contemporary artists as each year passes. Working under the enigmatic title “City Within the City,” curators from samuso: (Seoul) and Gertrude Contemporary (Melbourne) have created a diverse yet incisive platform within which visitors can engage with the larger questions surrounding cities and our roles as participants, observers or obstacles of urban development. This is socially-conscious curatorial programming; beyond pretty pictures and interesting concepts, “City Within the City” proposes a comprehensive look at the relationships between the urban landscape and city dwellers, keeping an eye to the way they have changed throughout history, resulting in the status quo.

Ash Keating, Zi Namsan Plus, 2011 (Courtesy Artsonje Center)

The documentary impulse presents a strong current throughout the museum’s two floors of exhibition space, from “officially recognized” histories to first-person remembrances. This sliding scale of authenticity and historical potency reflects the negotiations between individuals and the cityscape that inspire the exhibition. Haegue Yang juxtaposes utopian apartment-tower fantasy with the banality of newsprint in her slide projection Dehors (2006). Ash Keating takes a similar tack in Zi Namsan Plus (2011), satirizing the grotesquery and sensationalism part and parcel of the visual language employed by Korea’s mega-developers. Yeondoo Jung does Yang and Keating one better, however, by going inside these very same structures and investigating―via an encyclopedic photo series of living rooms with nearly-identical floor plans (Southern Rainbow Seoul, 2011)―how Korean families subvert the dehumanizing effects of Korean residential architecture.

“City Within the City” charts hypothetical encounters with the urban environment as much as it does verifiable ones, providing ample possibility for more imaginative discourse with the show’s theme. Minouk Lim‘s three-channel video presents a series of idiosyncratic riverside encounters during a presumed Han River night cruise (S.O.S.-Adoptive Dissensus, 2009). This three-channel video installation engages the river not only in dialogue with the city, but also with the way individuals conceptualize ownership of civic space. In his short film Seoul Fiction (2010), Jun Yang exposes an emotional, surreal and highly personal conflict between city and countryside as experienced by an elderly Korean couple. In stark opposition to carefully constructed story lines and cinematic contrivances, Alicia Frankovich proposes an impromptu physical manifestation of city life in her brief but aggressive video installation Volution (2011). Somewhere between reminiscence and reaction, Frankovich explores notions of personal space and personal expression within the strictures of urban life, assuming the role of de facto archetype for the show’s curatorial imperative.

Alicia Frankovich, Volution, 2011 (Courtesy Artsonje Center)

The exhibition is activated beyond the gallery’s interior spaces through projects by two Seoul-based artists collectives. Part-time Suite, nominated for the Hermès Korea Art Prize earlier this year, literally offers itself and its daily operations as a part of the exhibition. For their project SAMUSO Patch (2011), the collective sets up a temporary headquarters in a storeroom/garage nearby the museum and uses it as a base for its interventions, projects and film screenings. Adopting a more didactic approach, the group Listen to the City repurposes Artsonje Center’s ground-floor lounge/bookstore as a resource center for contentious urban development projects. In addition to this on-site content, Listen to the City is also offering its trademark Seoul Tours―alternative excursions aimed at reexamining sites of large-scale state-sponsored public works projects in and around Seoul―as well as organizing its 2nd annual Urban Film Festival.

Artsonje Center’s location in historic Bukchon, an historic and culturally rich enclave in Seoul rapidly succumbing to gentrification, lends the works inside the museum additional immediacy. Within its neighborhood, the museum itself acts as an accomplice in the very development that the exhibition (partly) condemns. Yet, this poignant truth adds further layers of complexity to be parsed from the dialectics advanced by this show; the physical and symbolic presence of the museum itself takes on the function of a meta-artwork, analyzed and encountered alongside the contents of its exhibition.

“City Within the City” Public Programs

Artist Talks

12 November/5pm – Alicia Frankovich, Ash Keating, Andrew McQualter
19 November/5pm – Abraham Cruzvillegas
17 Devember/5pm – Suyeon Yun

Urban Film Festival

18 November – 20 November/5pm daily
16 December – 18 December/5pm daily

(Abraham Cruzvillegas) Screening Program

10 December/5pm – Autoconstrucción (2009)

(Part-time Suite) Screening Program

26 November/6pm – Video Patchwork
22 December/6pm – Video Patchwork: Open Call

(Listen to the City) Writing and Drawing Workshop: North Korea, imagined by South Koreans

7 January 2012/4pm