Do Ho Suh
September 8 through October 29, 2022
By JONATHAN GOODMAN, October 2022
Now sixty, and living in London after a long period spent in New York, Do Ho Suh is showing a group of complicated works, some of them devoted to an anti-monumental feeling, as exampled by Inverted Monument (2022), a transparent structure in red plastic in which a figure is set upside down inside a cube. Suh is well trained; he received his BFA and MFA in Oriiental painting from Seoul National University before serving in the Korean military. After that period, he came to the United States, where he studied at the Rhode Island School of Design and Yale. His outlook tends to pay attention to the relations between the anonymous individual who, in the hundreds, literally supports a pedestal, as happened publicly in Brooklyn beginning in in 1998. From 2011 to 2015, Suh worked on 348 West 22nd Street, a highly specific replica of his apartment in transparent gauze. It is a visionary treatment of a very ordinary domestic environment, and now belongs to Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
This mixture of political critique and lyric expression makes Suh a remarkably compelling artist—someone who embraces a wider range of expression than most. Coming into the gallery, the first thing the viewer sees is Inverted Monument, whose bright red color and compelling form, of a pedestal made of extruded thermoplastic polyester (made in conjunction with a robotics team at Bristol’s Centre for Print Research), contains a male figure placed upside down. The statue’s head, surrounded by the semi-transparent polyester, may be understood as a deliberate travesty of established forms of power, often made semi-permanent in the form of monuments. Interestingly, Suh has created a sculpture that also undermines the Western penchant for authoritarian convention. The bright red plastic material encompasses the figure, but the monumental figure, traditionally meant to celebrate power, is quite literally upside down. In this work, Suh succeeds both in critiquing the investment of the West in demonstrations of authority and in establishing a memorably beautiful object. One does sense that the main objective is a critique of monuments generally, but that hasn’t stopped Suh from making something quite beautiful.
Suh’s striking wall installation, Jet Lag (2022), comes from his “Specimen” series, a body of works that incorporate familiar objects found in the artist’s life: light switches, door knobs, bath fittings. These objects are then displayed publicly, which to some extent, but not completely, removes them from Suh’s private life. Reproduced in colorful polyester fabric and supported by steel, the 400 objects in this work come near to overwhelming Suh’s audience by presenting many, many things having to do with his life. A full copy of a dark-green telephone stands out, as if Suh were placing it so visitors could start a conversation. Jet Lag is an autobiographical statement that is occasioned by objects alone, which cannot relay the emotions we associate with personal narrative. But, given their accumulation of a personal specificity, it becomes clear that the objects, despite the distance created by their synthetic materials, act as suggestions stimulating memory. Thus, Jet Lag becomes far more particular, more related to the artist’s life than we might first think.
In an interesting horizontal sweep of photos, set on the wall at the height of a viewer’s eye, One Sky (2022) stretches along the entire length of one of the gallery walls on the first floor. The images are nearly the same: pictures of a cloudless bright blue sky that take up almost the entire image, except for very thin portions of roofs. The images are joined together so that the effect is seamless; while there is very little to see at the bottom of each image, differences in the tops of the buildings turn the body of the work into a meditation on juxtaposed changes from one structure to the next. According to press notes, the photos connect with places meaningful to Suh; the diminutive presence of the building tops contrast with the large expanse of sky. Sometimes memory works in a similar fashion, echoing the object originating the remembrance in minute terms. In this show, Suh demonstrates his great skill in working with imageries that defy ordinary readings. Instead, they operate by implication, even when the work itself is sharply beautiful. If there is a note of political criticism—and there is—the image or sculpture proceeds indirectly, as a suggestion rather than a statement. We know suggestions are better making a point memorable; direct statements can box the viewer in, especially in politics. Suh knows this very well, and has come up with a vocabulary that intimates, in deeply lyric ways, a mixture of art and life. WM
Jonathan Goodman is a writer in New York who has written for Artcritical, Artery and the Brooklyn Rail among other publications.
view all articles from this author