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Sugar Rush
Richard Vine ( The Managing Editor of 『Art in America』)

 

The deceptively saccharine title of this three-person show refers to an insidious phenomenon-too many sweets triggering an impulse toward hyperactivity, distraction, and giddy insomnia. To undergo a sugar rush is to learn the paradoxical lesson that too much of a nice thing is not so nice at all. It's a lesson worth bearing in mind when one confronts an exhibition filled with so many candy-bright colors and pleasing patterns, so much implicit commentary on gimmicky pop culture, and so “sweet” an artistic strategy by young women from a country where girlish coyness is a national preoccupation and, sometimes, an emotional weapon. The show is a visual delight, but let the viewer beware.

JeongMee Yoon's photographic studies of children surrounded by their personal possessions-all pink for girls, all blue for boys-bring home a stunning realization of just how much stuff (multitudinous items that must be bought and paid for one by one) is required to live a normal life, and to have an acceptable identity, in an advanced market society. The neutrality of the camera's gaze in these works, with their evenly diffused lighting and allover sharpness of focus, conveys the sense of a social inventory. Each young person caught here in the midst of physical and psychological formation seems just one more datum, of little more significance formally (or any other way) than the clothes, shoes, toys, jewelry, books, sports gear, and games that engulf him or her. Yoon's cagey photographs, which look at first glance like clear, declarative visual statements, in fact cast viewers into a state of thoughtful inquiry and provocative doubt. Are the subjects masters of their domains, with proud holdings arrayed to impress us, or just cornered victims-souls captive to the so-called “goods” that so insistently impede direct human contact with the viewer? What drives the modern industries (and their attendant social mechanisms, so vividly echoed in the orderliness of the displays) that produce and promote these mass-market effusions as basic necessities? Are the urges that make boys and girls repeatedly desire these things-just as they “naturally”

choose blue or pink-true instincts or artificial compulsions-Do these preferences arise from human nature itself or from the personal character of each person, or are they induced by the profit-driven manipulations of others?

All three artists have found new, revivifying uses for pop cultural references and recent artistic issues. Park, whose disconnected numbers recall key works by Charles Sheeler and Jasper Johns, demonstrates a Warholesque concern with the graphic conventions of advertising and their false promises of transformative glamour and wealth. Yoon combines the eerie effects of obsessive monochrome installations by artists like Portia Munson with the photographic typology of Hilla and Bernd Becher, thus carrying one of the traditional mainstays of portraiture-the enumeration of status-signifying objects-to a radical, psychologically ambiguous extreme. Choi has worked an intriguing variation on one of modernism's principal tenets: if ignoble materials can now be put to high esthetic purposes, in the manner of Duchamp's inverted urinal, so too can commercial emblems of innocence and naivete (kids' stickers and glimmering decals) be turned to subversive ends, as Orly Cogan-in another body-centered vein-does with her folksy-looking pornographic embroideries. Thus the show earns its title. Just as the artistic means on view are up-to-date, the shared message is post-feminist: don't expect so much sugar, dear audience, without a transgressive rush.