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.
‘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.
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.
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.