Hayoon Jay Lee: Fields of Vision
January 5 through February 4, 2023
Performance: January 19, 2023
By JONATHAN GOODMAN, January 2023
Hayoon Jay Lee, originally from Korea, studied art for both her BFA and her MFA at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore. She made her way to New York City and has been living and working here in New York for close to two decades; currently, she has a studio midtown in the Elizabeth Art Foundation. As an artist, Lee works in many genres–she is an excellent performance artist (she will do a performance at Hollis Taggart Gallery on Thursday, January 19th), a gifted painter, and a strong sculptor (primarily of low relief works) and installation artist. A notable recent effort of hers, exhibited in Queens in 2021, was a table environment of rice “pills,” and of animal bones and historical ceramic bowls and cups, along with historical utensils, set in the dining room of The King Manor Museum, a still extant mansion where one of the signatories of the Constitution lived. In her current show, Lee resorts to a large group of her rice works, which are low reliefs that incorporate grains of rice, individually placed by the artist onto a flat surface. The background sometimes includes a painting as part of the work.
Lee is not only using rice as an unusual art material, she is also pointing to traditions far from New York City. As a pictorial material, rice is heavily textural; one sees the individual grains set against each other, and Lee often establishes fairly large patterns using the single kernels. Lee’s work does refer to her background in Korea. But her art in this show is also remarkably contemporary in an international sense. The works’ overall design can accurately be described as paintings in depth. The cultural suggestions in her work, determined by the rice and, sometimes, the calligraphic imagery serving as a background, exemplify the legacy of Asian culture and the contemporary painting history of New York City.
Disturbing the Universe (2022) is a beautiful work of art. Horizontally aligned and two inches deep, it is not quite a sculpture even if it is more than a painting. It consists of two organic, roughly edged abstract forms made of rice; the larger shape occurs on the far left of the painting, while the smaller spiraling form takes place on the right. A thin blue line underneath the forms joins them together. We see a bright red background, much of it embellished with cursive black strokes. It is hard to create a work that refers at once to Eastern and Western esthetics, but Lee has done so. The rice reaches toward Asian culture, but the shapes are abstract, and the black painting behind them could either be calligraphic strokes or a brushwork indicative of abstract expressionism. The combination of Western effects and Eastern materials within an abstract presentation make Disturbing the Universe an outstanding merger.
Mostly a black expanse, Emotive Movement (2022) does have a horizontal, slightly bent slab of white rice with an open insert high up in the piece. It almost looks like a work by Clyfford Still, whose angular abstractions seem to inform this work. Beneath, on the left, there is a smaller, sharply edged shape made of white rice. Lee’s titles are highly accurate regarding her art’s meaning; here the white shapes do in fact look like streaks of feeling set against a dark-set void. A circular work, called Unfamiliar Place (2022), consists simply of rice: black abstract shapes are surrounded by a white ground. These organic shapes are largest in the upper and bottom right of the circle; small shapes appear on the left. Here Lee’s title means a lot, although it doesn’t reveal much. Does the work’s name directly refer to the piece, or does it suggest the artist’s migration from Korea to America? Perhaps it is both. Lee’s accomplishment in this excellent show is to bring to her audience an awareness of mixed cultures, accomplished by both her materials and the patterns they describe. 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