A point of clarification is required at the outset—not about art, but about names. Korean names, like some American names—like my name, for instance—can be very common. The artist Jinsoo Kim at the Tenri Gallery—who is the subject of this review—should not be confused with the sculptor, Jin Soo Kim, who works out of Chicago. They are both Korean artists living in the United States. The artist at Tenri runs his first two names together to make one name: Jinsoo. The Chicagoan Jin Soo Kim, separates the two first names.
Also the Tenri artist, Jinsoo Kim, comes from the perspective of painting. I use the phrase “perspective of painting” for a reason in that perspective has a lot to do with Jinsoo’s work. In fact, perspective is an essential trope in an ongoing project, entitled “Entering/Exiting”—the title given to his Tenri exhibition. A lot can be said about his latest paintings and recent installations. The work appears to have evolved from a neo-constructivist aesthetic toward a kind of architectonic synthesis. The look of Jinsoo’s new work is abstract and spatial, but not sculptural. This is revealed in his two large walls, entitled Entering/Exiting (2005), built as a facing site-specific installation on the premises of Tenri. These walls are impressive in their spatial construction, their sense of illusion, their presume monumentality, and their metaphorical resonance. Each of these factors play heavily in Jinsoo’s work as one is capable of seeing them from different angles.
The fact that Jinsoo began as a painter is not incidental. This becomes obvious when viewing a thirty-two panel work, composed in the format of a horizontal rectangular grid, numbered in this series of works as #005. The neo-constructivist origins of his thinking are deeply embedded here, yet they play out in his own terms. I can see a little from the late 1940s Max Bill or even a 1920s De Stijl motif in this painting. But I can also see a heightened degree of original thinking. The hardedge shapes recall an architectonic journey of the mind, a push and pull coming from all sides, including the center, a veritable assemblage in two-dimensions that defines traditional Korean houses.
From here, one notices four sixteen part grids on the walls in the larger gallery. In each of these, Jinsoo has worked-out a diagrammatic space of his Brooklyn apartment in fully abstract terms. Each painting employs molding paste and acrylic on wood and describes different spatial aspects of his small apartment, resembling descriptions from the novels of Alain Robbe-Grillet. There is a real delight in piecing these spatial interstices together visually and in reconstructing the mindset of the artist as he pulls apart and reassembles his living space.
Finally, the two large walls, numbered “003” and “004” are a kind of tour de force. The threaded grids on these soaring surfaces that extend out from the actual wall and rise to the height of a fourteen foot ceiling, offer an illusion that is difficult to read as being separate from the square white paper “tiles” of the tangential panels. The fake walls appear very real, but very strange at the same time. One criticism of the piece is that in order to obtain the effects of illusion, this kind of construction requires a precision of technical application. Clearly the glue in the center of the paper tiles creates a disturbing unevenness that distracts from the intended effect. In fact, one may wish to see these site-specific architectonic constructions not as a trompe l’oeil but as a set of actual constructions with actual ceramic tiles.
Even so, Jinsoo’s achievement at Tenri still manages to carry a remarkable presence in its metaphorical power. As a Korean living in America, Jinsoo felt that he was constantly entering and exiting from himself in order to deal with the subtle forms of imposed conformity that have come into American life in recent years. Indeed, the message is that we are all in the process of entering and exiting ourselves as we search for a stability lost when our freedom of expression was curtailed in the midst of an unimaginable crisis that seemed to threaten the very basis of our democracy.
ContributorRobert 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.