Jorge Pardo: Bulgogi
456 North Camden Drive
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
July 16 through September 11, 2010
In a 2008 interview with Alex Coles, Jorge Pardo attributed his absorbion with architecture and design to having studied in California—at that time, significant historical buildings were more prevalent than significant historical artworks. His aesthetic vocabulary was informed by Neutra's and Schindler's and his concerns with sculpture and space were focussed on inhabitable structures and the objects that fill them. These concerns continue with Bulgogi, where they create a conceptual platform from which Pardo addresses the Korean diaspora.
Conflating space and object, the primary structure of the show is a drawing room. A large-scale shelter of sorts, it is sleek and impassive from the outside, cozy and gorgeously appointed inside. The bulbous shape is organic and primordially comforting; the seamless joins create palpable but gentle tension between inside and out. Reminiscent of tents or yurts, it speaks to transient existence and the fluid, mobile potential of home. Close by in the main gallery space, a set of table-like objects and wall-mounted cases (un)titled, 'jewelry vitrines', display beautifully strange pieces of wearable art. A series of boldly-striped canvasses embedded with small, high-powered fans adorns the rear gallery.
One of Pardo's most high-profile early pieces, his own home (a project for and partially funded by LA MoCA), radically questions definitions of art and architecture. Proposing its existence as an archiectural art object outside a physical gallery context, it still relies largely on the authority of the institution to establish it as such. The relationship is deep, but obtuse. In contrast, Bulgogi, fits neatly within a white cube and so more overtly sets these elements into play. The nested architectures of gallery and pod throw one another into sharp relief, affirming one as the definer of art, and the other as the defined. It is straight-forwardly articulated that architectural concepts can fill varying, even oppositional, roles in relation to art.
The ambiguous functionality of the exhibition objects appears to still be posing the question: if something is less useful does that make it more artistic? Within the 'drawing room', no matter how elaborate or elegant, the table is a table, the lights are lights and the carpet is a carpet (and decorative elements are un-complex). Form does not confuse function. The structure that houses them, however, is not fully enclosed, rendering it incapable of providing any meaningful shelter outside the gallery, whereas inside the gallery, no shelter is needed. The vitrines have an unsettled relationship with the jewelry they hold—it remains undefined whether the extravagant baubles serve to adorn the structures in a coheseive aesthetic sense, or whether the structures are subordinated to them, acting as predominantly functional containers. Pardo's fan canvasses might be proposing a more beautiful way to deal with the necessary mechanical functions of our built environments. Or, given that the fans as operating are not actually performing any necessary function, they could be commenting on the arbitrary nature of how we assign artistic value to 'useless' objects. In this installation everything is strikingly attractive, but the only elements that have a firmly identifiable nature as functional object are inside the pod, creating a decisive distinction. At the same time, though, the pod's very impracticality seems to throw a protective, artistic envelope around its contents.
It is organic and necessary to move through various relationships between art, architecture and design and to apply these methods to other concepts, but this installation's connection to a specific cultural diaspora is only tenuously supported. The title of the show imposes the association most strongly, 'bulgogi' being a traditional Korean beef dish. As discussed, the drawing room has definititive affinities with nomadic or transient shelters, referencing a basic human ability to create 'home' where ever we find ourselves. But the photo-collage wallpaper and portraits of Korean families inside are the only other readily identifiable allusions to that culture. (Interestingly, the portraits are the most un-designed objects in the show, seeming to imply that the imagined emotional value of the images supercedes any aesthetic value of their frames.) There is no clear reason why the exhibition should not have been named 'Enchilada', and have included pictures of Mexican families, and as such, there is something of an 'insert immigrant community here' feeling.
There are, of course, universal experiences related to immigration. These would include tension between acceptance of meanings imposed by existing social structures of the adopted country, and desire to create structural relationships that more intimately reflect one's own experiences. Although thinly laying Korean associations over the objects presented does spur consideration of the immigration experience in general, it seems a fairly perfunctory and therefore somewhat shallow mechanism. This issue is, of course, further confounded by the fact that the Western art world generally maintains quite strict distinctions between art, architecture and design, and therefore work that resides on their intersections will still distract viewers with its formal problematics. However, by exploring specific intricacies of the Korean diaspora more deeply, Pardo would have better justified the title and more fundamentally established the conceptual breadth of his incredible, hybrid vocabulary.