Pairing two Korean-American artists in a review smacks of the subtle racism of Black History Month. Yet seeing the solo shows of Gyun Hur and Jiha Moon in adjacent galleries — Get This! and Saltworks, respectively — makes it irresistible. Both commingle Eastern and Western art modes and cultural references, but their individual aesthetics are almost diametrically opposed, as are the tone and themes they pursue.
Moon approaches the world with open arms, and eyes. You can see this in the tableau in a corner of the gallery, which contains the knicknacks that surround her while she works. Kitsch and pop culture artifacts from both sides of the Pacific, they include a souvenir Atlanta keychain and other such trinkets, candy boxes, figurines (from curvy Barbie dolls to flat-faced Asian kitties), embroidered Korean purses, art postcards, anime and even the ink registration grids taken off cereal boxes.
The color, pattern and imagery Moon absorbs from this environment are reborn in her paintings (“Cheoyang,” above), along with nods to Asian scrolls, pop art, Abstract Expressionism and cartoons. Moon’s technique is just as ecumenical as her collections. Her paintings are compendia of mark-making, from the fluidity of calligraphy to the impasto brushiness of Philip Guston, from aqueous washes to carefully defined matte shapes. She has recently added collage to her repertoire. The paintings at Saltworks contain embroidered flowers and layers of the wafer-thin Korean hanji paper on which she paints.
Moon’s brio belies the patient build-up of layers of paint her work requires, just as the spontanetity of the work belies her skill at orchestrating the welter of colors, brush strokes and imagery into a chorus. Only an accomplished and fearless painter has this kind of confidence in her intuition, and it gives her the freedom to go for broke.
The expression that comes to mind that characterizes the spirit of Moon’s work is the Hebrew word “l’chaim,” a toast that means “to life.” Hur, on the other hand, is involved with death. Loss, mourning and the rituals surrounding them are recurring themes in her performances and installations. Also in contrast to Moon, Hur, who received her Master of Fine Arts degree from Savannah College of Art and Design last year, has chosen the ethos of Minimalism/conceptual art, and references to her Korean heritage are subtle and indirect.
“Repose,” Hur’s installation at Get This!, builds upon her “Requiem in the Garden,” at Gallery Stokes this past fall. A memorial to her grandmother’s lost garden, it featured acrylic shelves lined with stripes of shredded cemetery flowers. The shelves of shredded flowers return here, but the central element is a floor piece (above) made of the same material, which re-creates her parents’ striped wedding blanket.
Though a wedding blanket would seem to be all about beginnings, this one reverberates with metaphors of endings. The cemetery flowers are torn to bits, an action that simulates the rending of clothing, a mourning ritual upon which Hur based a previous piece. The fragility and ephemerality — one worries about even opening the gallery door on a windy day — make a statement. The title “Repose,” a word that can be used to describe a body laid out at a funeral, plays a role too.
This is what you’d call a performative installation. A video shows Hur and her parents cutting the flowers, which they transported, separated by hue, to the gallery in kimchee jars. Hur recounts in her blog the painstaking process of laying down the two-inch-wide stripes — 186 of them, each requiring 30 minutes of labor.
The bird’s-eye view — through a window cut out near the ceiling, reached via a ladder — is the most interesting (above). The opposing stripes on the shelves visually flatten into the floor piece to create a wall-to-wall Sol LeWitt. But actually Ann Hamilton is the artist who seems most relevant. Her ritualistic repetitive actions, the importance of particular materials, the Zen-like quietude are echoed here. The end result here doesn’t match the presence and resonance of the elder artists’ work, but Hur is young. And promising.
Artist’s talks on Saturday, Feb. 20, during Westside Art Walk. Hur at 1 p.m., Moon at 1:45.