2012 Travel Diary 2: Suh Do-ho “Home within Home” at the Leeum

Suh Do-ho: Reflection (2005-2011)
Suh Do-ho: Reflection (2005-2011) greets you at the entrance to the exhibition at the Leeum. Photo: LKL

Seoul, Saturday 24 March 2012. The Leeum Samsung Museum of Art, a short walk from Hangangjin subway station (Line 6), is currently hosting what is claimed to be their first ever solo show there by a living Korean artist. Suh Do-ho has been a prominent international artist for over 10 years – since appearing for South Korea at the 2001 Venice Biennale. In the UK he has participated in the 2010 Liverpool Biennial and the 2008 group exhibition in London’s Hayward Gallery1, and one of his works is in Tate Modern’s collection.

Suh Do Ho: Staircase – V, 2003/04/08
Suh Do Ho: Staircase – V, 2003/04/08 Polyester and stainless steel tubes Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin Gallery, New York Photo: © Stephen White. Now in the Tate’s permanent collection

The Leeum’s exhibition is not designed to be a comprehensive retrospective. Two key works are not there: the warrior sculpture made out of military name tags (Some/one) and the glass floor held up by hundreds of tiny plastic moulded human figures (Floor). These works would not fit in with the overall theme of the exhibition, which is entitled “Home within Home”.

Suh Do-ho: Net-Work (2010)
Suh Do-ho: Net-Work (2010). Shodoshima, Japan. Photo: http://miryanb.blogspot.co.uk/2011/01/do-ho-suh.html

But for those wanting to be introduced to Suh’s work more broadly, there is a documentary film in a side room which has short sections about the creation and installation of various site-specific works which it was not possible to show at the Leeum. Continuing his theme, from Floor, of an army of tiny moulded figures working together, there is a peaceful scene of a fishing net formed of gold and silver human figures, stretched out over a large metal frame on the sea shore in Japan (Net-work (2010)). Suh seemed to be working with the local community in creating this installation, and there was plenty of opportunity in the documentary for artful camera angles and close-up shots of the sea washing over the tiny figures, burying them in the sand. There is also a fascinating video on the making of the 2010 sculpture Karma, of which there is a small reproduction in the Leeum’s foyer.

Do-Ho Suh: Karma (2010), Sculpture in front of the Albright Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, NY
Do-Ho Suh: Karma (2010), Sculpture in front of the Albright Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, NY. Photo: Danielle Sauers / Wikipedia

Downstairs, the main exhibits are familiar constructions of the skeletons of buildings created out of coloured polyester gauze strengthened with a fine metal framework: the hanok in Seoul where he was brought up and the brownstone building at 348 W22nd St New York where he has lived more recently.

Installation view of the lower gallery space at the Leeum
Installation view of the lower gallery space at the Leeum. Photo: Leeum

One marvelled at the standard of the craftsmanship such as the fiddly detail of a light-switch stitched out of gauze, and enjoyed the quality of the light as one walked through the passageways and explored the rooms of these near real-size constructions. And the impact of the different works was increased by their proximity to each other, and by their contrasting colours and different modes of display: the hanok you had to walk under, while other buildings you could walk through.

Suh Do Ho: Fallen Star 1/5, 2008
Suh Do Ho: Fallen Star 1/5, 2008 ABS, basswood, beech, ceramic, enamel paint, glass, honeycomb board, laquer paint, latex paint, LED lights, pinewood, plywood, resin, spruce, styrene, polycarbonate sheets, PVC sheets Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin Gallery, New York Photo: © Stephen White

The connection and collision between Suh’s Korean and American dwellings was further explored upstairs, with the “Fallen Star” sculpture showing a literal collision between the two (shown at London’s Hayward Gallery in 2008), and a project for an imaginary trans-Pacific floating highway to connect Korea with the New World.

Suh Do-ho: Gate (2011). Crows sequence
Suh Do-ho: Gate (2011). Crows sequence. Photo: http://rosemarywashington.wordpress.com/2011/12/07/luminous-gate/

Probably the highlight of the exhibition was in a room sectioned off in the upper gallery: an installation entitled Gate, which was well-received in the Seattle Art Museum in 2011, for which it was commissioned. The attraction of this all-immersing work was that it combined sound and video installation of images inspired in part by Joseon dynasty ink painting, projected onto a screen which included a Korean gateway (a replica of one in Suh’s Seoul home) through which visitors were invited to walk. The same images could be viewed the other side of the gate.

Suh Do-ho: Gate (2011). Plum Blossom sequence
Suh Do-ho: Gate (2011). Plum Blossom sequence. Photo http://rosemarywashington.wordpress.com/2011/12/07/luminous-gate/

The video referenced individual works in the Seattle collection, including in particular an Edo period folding screen from Japan depicting a murder of crows, full of movement.2 We also had a time-lapse sequence of a day in Suh’s peaceful garden in Seoul, and a clever animation of a 19th Century ink painting, Plum Blossoms in Moonlight, wich made it seem as if the ghostly presence of the original artist Yi Gong-u was painting it in front of your eyes. The video below is from the Seattle Art Museum blog, where further videos are available.

This was a work which made you want to stay and see it over and over again. It’s well worth making your way to the Leeum for this work alone. The exhibition lasts until 3 June.

Links, image credits and sources:

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  1. Psycho Buildings, 2008 []
  2. A particularly appropriate collective noun in this case, because Suh Do-ho’s depiction felt rather threatening. []

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