Noodles, Rice, and Bread (Part 1)
January 15 through February 12, 2022
Curated by Soojung Hyun
By ROBERT C. MORGAN, February 2022
The intention behind this unusually heterogeneous exhibition is focused on art and food. According to its curator, Dr. Soojung Hyun, the task of combining these two indulgences – art and food – on almost any cultural level suggests the quotient will result in pleasure.
In any case, the art selected for this particular exhibition corresponds to the premise of making art that comments on food or looks like food in the course of seeking a pleasurable response.
The four artists chosen for Studio Artegon’s first exhibition (since the formal opening of the gallery in January 2022) include Seongmin Ahn, Hayoon Jay Lee, Eung Ho Park, and Nicolás Dumit Estévez Raful Espejo Ovalles. Curiously, three of the four artists are of Korean dissent. The fourth, Nicolás Dumit Estévez Raful Espejo Ovalles, is a Lebanese artist raised in the Dominican Republic. In addition to the three Korean artists, both the gallery director and the curator are Korean.
Even so, it is worth noting the history of galleries in New York City in recent decades where serious attention has been given to artists outside the cultural mainstream– not only Korean, but those emanating from diversified, unpredictable and culturally-laden backgrounds. This is not about the number of viewers, but about the importance of galleries, such as Studio Artego that engage artists from divergent cultural perspectives outside predictable exhibition agendas.
Qualitatively, the cultural dimensions of art that include works by artists shown in this exhibition are not only unusual, but culturally epistemological.
Of course, not all artists are the same, even if they come from the same culture. Rather, the status of the art being shown in the context of various cultures and age-groups might ultimately endorse them through a more significant awareness of what we understand as originality.
In Hayoon Jay Lee’s double portrait, titled You Me Me You (2019), the combination of rice together with molding paste, Styrofoam, and acrylic paint on a wood panel makes us aware that we are seeing a work of art engaged with a “non-art” material. This further suggests that the materials used in making art cannot be easily separated from the work of art in itself -- especially if the meaning or concept are embedded within the work holistically. This is also true when the work – whether singularly or in seriation – moves between figuration and/or abstraction. Again, materiality requires a holistic analysis integral to the totality of the work.
Seongmin Ahn’s work is different. The material issue is less predominant. Rather than thinking of rice as a material moving its status from food to art, Ahn’s work is involved with painting noodles. In her Aphrodisial (2019) series, the noodles magically rise up from their bowls with red chopsticks at the top, clinging to the noodles as if they were in outer-space. The background of these paintings is in gold. From another angle of vision, Ahn’s Evolutionary Impulse (2019) series renders noodles extending from tea cups. An outstanding feature of these paintings is the artist’s surreal exaggeration of the noodles’ length and scale against various monochrome backgrounds. For example, painting 04 is blue, and painting 01 is orange. The Evolutionary Impulse (2019) series evolves consistently through Ahn’s use of ink, pigment, and wash on mulberry paper. It is a curious, entertaining, and evocative body of work.
The so-called “sound work” by the artist Nicolás Dumit Estévez Raful Espejo Ovalles required a separate room. It was a 40 second reading of a recipe for making a popular Caribbean dish, called Arroz Sin Pollo, or “Rice Without Chicken.” The ingredients included rice, chicken, tomato sauce, garlic, cilantro, onion, peppers, and Spanish olives. Sounds good to me!
The sculpture by Eung-Ho Park, Delightful Buddha (1993-2021), reveals a magnificent transformation of the Buddha body into a massive jumble of colorful vegetables constructed from metal magnets. The irony of these elements is the weight. For some reason, we might assume that Buddha was light as are the vegetables. But what is the difference as to whether the Buddha is heavy or light, or perhaps both at the same time? In any case, the shear temporality of putting this work together in the time period of its construction is impressive as is its hyper-visual splendor. It is a work of total defiance as to how the popular notion of sculpture is able to project meaning.
In addition, the exhibition had several small drawings with “word works” by Mr. Park in which the execration of “fuck” was employed, the most interesting being Fuck Xenophobia (2021). There was also a bread installation affixed to the wall of the gallery in which the letters for the word BREAD were spelled in English. Overlaid and adjacent to it was the Korean Hangil for the same word.
As I was departing from the gallery, I noticed a 50“ x 60” painting with the title Meditation (1996 - 97), again by Eung-Ho Park. I have to say that this overall abstract painting in primaries with occasional earth colors reminded me of puzzle pieces, not food. It was the work that truly captured this exhibition for me. WM
Robert C. Morgan is an educator, art historian, critic, poet, and artist. Knowledgeable in the history and aesthetics of both Western and Asian art, Morgan has lectured widely, written hundreds of critical essays (translated into twenty languages), published monographs and books, and curated numerous exhibitions. He has written reviews for Art in America, Arts, Art News, Art Press(Paris), Sculpture Magazine, The Brooklyn Rail, and Hyperallergic. His catalog essays have been published by Gagosian, Pace, Sperone Westwater, Van Doren Waxter, White Cube (London), Kukje (Seoul), Malingue (Hong Kong), and Ink Studio (Beijing). Since 2010, he has been New York Editor for Asian Art News and World Sculpture News, both published in Hong Kong. He teaches in the Graduate Fine Arts Program at Pratt Institute as an Adjunct Professor and at the School of Visual Arts.
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