JONG OH

MARC STRAUS GALLERY | APRIL 1 – MAY 6, 2012

The work of Jong Oh is new to me, but Korean contemporary art is not. Having spent much time wandering through the galleries in Seoul over the past 15 years, I have acquired some grasp of how it works there. In general, the trends are rampant. There is a certain look about the work that conforms to a specific style of installation. Much of what I see in Korean galleries—not only by younger artists—is either excessively crafted or borrowed from Western forms of Conceptualism, or sometimes both. Therefore, to see an exhibition so reduced and intelligently considered as in the work of Jong Oh—although not entirely exempt from these considerations—offered a refreshing interlude. In looking at the artist’s two-and-a-half room installation at the Marc Straus Gallery, I considered the possibility that the shift of context from Seoul to the Lower East Side makes a difference in terms of the work’s reception or that perhaps, Oh’s manner of installation carries subtleties less present in the work of other young Koreans. Perhaps these differences are related to the fact that having grown up in foreign lands outside of Korea, Oh thinks and sees outside the trends.

Jong Oh, Between Two Doors (installation photo), 2012. Dimensions variable. Thread, paint, wood, Plexiglas, aluminum, and brass weights. Courtesy Marc Straus LLC.

Jong Oh pays attention to details. There are threads that move across the wall or between walls that have been painted so that sometimes the lines they create are visible and sometimes they are not. The artist also uses 10-gram fishing weights to balance and hold a small apparatus made of thin pieces of wood and thin steel that extends from the lower wall to the floor or hangs suspended in relation to another delicate structure, one side always balancing the other. In either case, I think of antecedents, ranging from the mobiles of Calder to the early conceptual thread-works of Robert Barry. However, the context that informed these works is quite different from either Calder or Barry. Neither photographs nor descriptive language do much to clarify the complex spatiality involved in making these installations; they seem to move abruptly between visibility and invisibility. One simply has to be within the space to sense what is happening. The forms are tenuous as they result from the use of barely visible materials such as thread, paint, thin wooden dowels, string, sticks of laminated wood, aluminum sheets, wire, rods, weights, and thinly gauged acrylic sheets, called Plastic Pane. The overhead lighting, which is crucial to sensing the subtlety of the work, involves halogen lights. If the neon lights are turned on, the aura dissolves as one’s concentration is disrupted by the glare visible on the acrylic sheets.

Other works involving parts from old wooden chairs are installed in the half-room, where a conference table is strangely placed in the other half. One work is positioned in relation to the wall and floor, a second small work stands on the floor alone, and a third—a steam-bent rim from a chair-back—projects out from the wall fastened by wire. Given the space allotted, one work on either wall would be sufficient rather than the three shown side by side. The work of Jong Oh functions best when the space as a whole is taken into account. For this reason, the installation in the large room is a tour de force as it contradicts the assumption that art is about objects filling space. Rather, “Between the Walls” (as this work is titled) challenges our perceptions of sight by creating the illusion of objects that exist in a space we cannot so easily contain. This is an amazing exhibition that suggests a new direction in bringing concept and percept together through art.

Contributor

Robert C. Morgan

Robert C. Morgan is a writer, international art critic, curator, poet, lecturer, and artist. His most recent book is Clement Greenberg: Late Writings (2003). He holds both an MFA in Sculpture and a Ph.D. in Art History. He is currently Adjunct Professor of Fine Art at Pratt Institute.

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