The Limits of Creation
– Eliza Newman Reports on Current LA Artcore Exhibition, Jan 2-29 –
“It looks like animal parts fighting,” says sculptor, Sung Il Kim. He gestures toward a mass of interwoven clay limbs near the back of LA Artcore, a small gallery in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles. “But humans are different than animals,” Il explains. “We help each other.”
Standing over six feet tall, Il’s sculpture is impressive, appearing to have required significant time and effort to construct. But Il claims otherwise, explaining that once inspiration struck, the actual sculpting process took less than a month. “It always takes a lot of time to settle on an idea for a sculpture,” he says. “But once I know what I want to make, the actual creation process is fast.”
While some of Il’s sculpture is made by hand, he also makes use of molds, found objects and metal beams that he collects during his day job as a construction worker. Appearing alongside the humbling masses of clay bodies are two of Il’s intimate sculptures, portraits of him and his wife. Although Il’s large-scale musings about human interdependence and the mutability of “goodness” are the most captivating of his works on display, the rawness of Il’s art nevertheless distinguishes it from the more conventional, brightly hued works that fill the rest of the gallery.
At first glance, Il’s coarse, almost colorless sculptures appear to have little in common with Nina Jun List’s cheerful polka dot balloons or Jin Sil Kim’s deceptively simple watercolor landscapes, but there’s an educational and experiential link connecting all five artists whose work is being shown. The artists studied in proximity to one another as they passed through the doors of the Seoul’s Hong-Ik University between 1968 and 1975 before immigrating to America in the mid-1980s. While the university is now regarded as one of Korea’s preeminent center for the arts, all five artists embarked on their respective artistic journeys at a time when the school was still in its infancy. They attempted to develop what many critics and scholars now regard as a balance between Korean traditionalism and a global artistic aesthetic. The artists, trained in the East yet working in the West, have made Los Angeles not only their home, but also the adopted center of their artistic endeavors. Thus, all five artists are inextricably bound to each other by a combination of choice and fortune.
In addition to helping connect the various artists and organizing Artcore’s first show in 2015, Phil Kho, has a number of his own multimedia paintings on display. In contrast to Il’s rough, almost primal textures, Kho employs a modernist sensibility that appears to simultaneously pay homage to the works of Miró as well as the broader traditions of both Korean and Russian art. He plays with black and seemingly wooden boxes, oscillating between rigid formality and bright splatters of neon colors. Despite his vibrant choices, a clear sense of restraint is also visible in the meticulous way that Kho situates almost imperceptible details—dime-sized mirrors and plastic bullet holes—within his larger pieces.
Beyond Kho’s skillful approach to structural decomposition is a sense of variety and nuance that is difficult to perceive in many of the other works on display. Even though Nina Jun List speaks with great passion about the way galaxies and universes inspired her ceramic balloons, visitors will undoubtedly compare her pieces to Jeff Koons’ iconic balloon sculptures. Jin Sil Kim’s watercolor landscape paintings and Carnie Sund-Sung Kim’s abstracted red pepper prints likewise suffer from a similar sense of familiarity that detract from whatever kind of emotional and intellectual impact the works are intended to elicit.
The varied pieces ask: Can anything we create be original when creation has such an extended history? Even as we commit ourselves to the search for individuality and honest self-expression, how can we know that we are not merely calling upon a suppressed consciousness to present something that looks awfully similar to the stamp of individualism we desire?
The show presents itself as an exploration of human nature, and delivers an introspective journey.
This free exhibit at LA Artcore’s Union Center for the Arts runs January 2 – 29.
Photography by Eliza Newman