On ViewDoosan Gallery
September 10 – October 17, 2020
Not quite a painting show, not quite a show of sculpture, not quite a show embodying an installation, Korean artist Park Kyung Ryul’s Tense is taut with possibility. Developed from her residency at the DOOSAN Gallery, Park’s sophisticated show seeks to expand the flatness of painting to a three-dimensional degree. There are a couple of actual paintings set against the wall in the L-shaped gallery space, but Tense also creates an installation space filled with such elements as ceramics, sculptures, and objects in addition to the paintings mentioned. Park has produced a rather theoretical statement for her audience to read, but the work is not so dense as to justify excessively abstract thought. Instead, it witnesses an intelligent artist’s wish to explore how form occurs and how the genres of painting, sculpture, and installation may be effectively joined. The show is inherently contemplative, in the sense that it takes time to traverse the materials of the exhibition, which mostly lie on the floor. The many components of Tense, which include odd objects, wooden dowels, and small abstract ceramic sculptures, can be likened to Park’s personal dictionary of forms, which communicate, both singly and as a group, the infinite possibilities of a loose arrangement of eccentric materials.
Even though press materials claim the show is an attempt to expand the structure of paintings, it is hard not to see this work as a collection of sculpture, embellished by a few colorful, abstract two-dimensional works. They seem to be deliberately placed and randomly arranged in the same moment, expanding the visual idiom of the installation in ways that correspond to abstract art, both painting and sculpture. The presence of these discrete objects is close to arbitrary, in the sense that we don’t know fully why they exist where they are. Yet, at the same time, it is clear that an overriding intelligence on Park’s part is evident. As one walks down the long corridor of the space, it becomes necessary to pass among the elements without touching them. So the viewer becomes an active participant in the show, fulfilling its implications—both remaining physically tense and proceeding purposefully—by movement. The pieces on the floor are too various and too numerous to easily describe, but it can be said that they remain mostly flat on the floor, so that the field itself becomes a kind of background to a low relief. Thus, we are looking downward for an explanation of the painting genre, which we associate with being mounted on the wall. It is a deliberate destabilization of our expectations, one which expands the possibilities of the painterly fields.
As for the paintings themselves, they are at the end of the corridor and do not necessarily assert themselves as a major focus of interest. Instead, they are part of Park’s larger view, in which individual objects assemble in ways that cohere into a recognizable pattern or scheme. One oil painting, Picture 11 (2019), is mostly yellow, decorated with unrecognizable blue, green, and red organic shapes and contour lines that come close to graffiti. Another work, Picture 12 (2020), has a light background, on top of which we find doodles and informal abstract shapes: yellow lozenges with black markings, linear squiggles, forms beyond description. Irregularly formed ceramic tubes—almost like bones—are arrayed on the floor before the painting, one propped against the wall directly under the canvas as if to offer support.
These paintings may not be completely effective as works in their own right, but they contribute well to the general metaphysics of the show, which seeks to deconstruct the image into components that litter the gallery in an attempt to introduce random creativity into what is usually considered a conscious operation. Park’s theory, a bit difficult to understand in her dense artist’s statement, is abundantly clear in her art. She is leading us in a direction of philosophical inquiry, although her tools are not linguistic but visual. This is a good thing, because her ideas become secondary to the impulse of her hand and eye. In this way, Park is pushing our investigations forward, into a place where a philosophy of form is enacted, but in visual ways that keep any dominance of an idea at bay. Recognition of the work of earlier artists, such as Mel Bochner, Robert Morris, and Eva Hesse, allows us to see the work in context, but one has the sense that Park has mostly created the show according to her own creative design. Her independence of thought is paramount, which means that she is effectively communicating a contemporary point of view—but one that can be understood as a maverick expression. This carries weight in a time of often unimaginative, conventional art.