“The Apotheosis of the Fish Market”
Marc Straus Annex, New York, NY
By JONATHAN GOODMAN, JAN. 2017
Located at 284 Grand Street, NYC, in a former Chinatown fish market across the street from Marc Straus’s main gallery, “The Aptheosis of the Fish Market” made outstanding use of a rough space that will be transformed into a condominium building this coming spring. The title of the show derives from a 1976 article, “The Apotheosis of the Crummy Space,” by Nancy Foote in Artforum, in which Foote celebrated the artistic use of spaces in abandoned buildings; her notion that such rooms in such buildings could be transformed by additions to or changes within them was, at the time, a powerful esthetic for Gordon Matta Clark’s excavations of forsaken places in New York City, or by David Wojnarowicz’s work a generation later. Thus, thee esthetic of reclaiming deserted architecture has a history dating back to the early 1970s, when the city was close to broke and many properties were free. In the current “Apotheosis,” Korean artists Jinsu Han, an inventor of mechanical engines that do such things as make paintings untouched by the human hand, and Jong Oh, whose minimal interventions with string, Plexiglas, and weight reconstruct space in subtle but far-reaching ways, renewed the entire abandoned building into a grand art project.
To enter the show, one had to go to Straus’s main gallery and get a key to the satellite gallery. When accompanied by Ken Tan, the show’s curator, the exhibition’s audience would receive an explanation by him of the particular pieces on show. Some of the works were accessible and, for that matter visible, although Oh’s wire-and-line art was indeed often negligible (but not unimportant as art). Passersby could see through the front glass a painting machine made by Han, which consisted of a mechanized brush spreading paint on a small canvas. The results, called “The Action Paintings,” look a bit basic, but they are a triumph of distanced control. This kind of art, its combination of human and robotic authority, commands interest by virtue of its mechanical manufacture, when we usually expect an artwork to be achieved by hand. Another compelling piece, Han’s Dragonflower (2016), consisted of a large pinkish-red bloom with a yellow center and a stem and leaves, set in the middle of a room on an upper floor. A motor kept it moving and swiveling in hypnotic fashion.
Han’s art aims makes its concerted effect on the viewer by bridging the gap between human and robotic construction. In contrast, Oh’s projects work a minimalist magic, to the point where they are extremely hard to see! One hesitates to call the work “Asian” in nature, especially when it was explained to me that Western minimalist art has been an inspiration for Oh. Yet, even so, it is fair to note the concept of empty space dominating his art—a notion deeply embedded in the Oriental esthetic. The art demands an extended act of attention as the threads defining the pieces are thin and light and get lost when they are looked at against a white wall. However, this invisibility adds to the subtlety and nuance of the pieces. In Room Drawing (Object) #4 (2016), a small room was transformed into a highly complicated space by the use of line and Plexiglas; the thread created geometrical forms attached to the ceiling and wall and in one case suspended a metal weight that reached nearly to the floor. Additionally, transparent rectangles of Plexiglass were both visible objects and weightless, nearly invisible portals. The American Patrick Ireland also defined space with line, but it was cord one could see easily. Oh’s installation feels as light and invisible as the airy space it articulates.
Another line installation by Oh, named Line Sculpture (Slice) #1 (2016), is both a sculpture and a line drawing. This piece was composed of thin black thread and a black graphite line. It extended from an attached but protruding column that created an angle with the wall. Attached to the column a thin, high rectangle was outlined with thread, with an angled thread cutting through the space to its attachment on the wall. The graphite line completed the drawing but was extremely difficult to differentiate from the thread. The work became an exercise in delicate perception—a core goal for Oh here and in his work generally. Both Han and Oh are indicative of contemporary artists’ willingness to improvise and show wherever and however they can. In Han’s case, his machines become metaphors for an automatic objectivity not always thought possible in making art, while in Oh’s account, the poetics of space becomes a visible idea rather than an imperceptible aura. Curator Tan is to be congratulated on his boldness in salvaging a disheveled space, soon intended to house luxurious apartments, for a two-person show that was successful in all ways, making highly imaginative use of what was available to the artists. 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