Yun Choi at Doosan Gallery

 

“Walking the Dead End,” the show by mixed-media installation artist Yun Choi, at Doosan Gallery, is an excellent array of sculptures, paintings, and a video, all of which comment on the ongoing distress caused by the COVID virus and the consequent quarantine in New York City. As troubling as these circumstances are, the artist’s installation also reflects a new way of making images, in which a proliferating eclecticism, influenced by both Western and Asian culture, looks at various influences without necessarily merging them. Instead, like the objects placed on the floor and walls in haphazard fashion, the Korean background of the artist takes into account the varying difficulties found in New York--plywood is a major element in the show, connecting with the restaurants and businesses there shut down because of the virus (but also because of the political anger in response to violence toward black people). At the same time, the show’s intricate presentation is brought about by the commonplace materials and mixed genres found in Yun Choi’s art.

 

Yun Choi is responding to current conditions in the New York art world, its penchant for a conceptual and socially committed approach. Now artists all over the world make use of whatever works in their creative endeavors, a practice that can seem mildly disconnected as a result. It is true Yun Choi scatters the elements of her installation on the gallery floor, but this is done not so much because of a wish for anarchy; instead, it is the consequence of trying to reflect the disparate, often difficult effects of life under quarantine. Yun Choi, like most international artists, has been exposed to a broad variety of Western art--hence the conceptual bias of the installation, an orientation that now goes back several decades. Important components of her work include the floor decals used to determine just how far a person can stand from someone else; a framed painting of a blue sky and sea, with black letters announcing “We’re open”; and the semi-comic, mostly menacing Bigfoot man-monster. Images thus occur as fleeting, isolated moments in face of relations damaged by the contagion.

 

None of these idiosyncratic elements actually make sense in relation to each other. The imagery also suggests the problem of language; at times, people from different groups are unable to communicate because of language differences. Yun Choi, whose English is fluent, doesn’t have this problem, but surely she has picked up how separate cultures can become in a larger New York culture that is not truly a melting pot. Another major part of the show includes three large, sunset red paintings on plywood with nonobjective designs painted on them--a necklace-like circle of dots in the middle panel, some snake-like forms on the far right panel--which occur as a bit of whimsy, in contrast to the ordered governmental directives regarding the virus. Bigfoot, with its head in plaster, supporting huge orchids, is the center of the Yun Choi’s display, but its incongruity intensifies the show’s disorder rather than cohering it. Press materials, as well as the title of the exhibition, indicate that these very different images are aimed at illustrating death as a universalizing metaphor, leveling our existence.

 

The show might just have easily been given the title “No Exit,” Sartre’s existentialist play written during the Second World War. There is no way out. It is hard to read a positive outlook into these expressions of emptiness and kitsch. Yun Choi, who is still young, is very international in the implications of her installation, composed as it is of individual artworks that hardly meld. Thus, this is the philosophical work of someone artistically older than her age. One walks away from the imagery nearly overwhelmed by its numerous unrelated themes; we are living in an atmosphere overcome by random connections. The virus pandemic comes out as a particularly accurate narrative devoted to the loss of meaning, a point of view made clear by this difficult but moving installation.

 

- Jonathan Goodman