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Your Bright Future: 12 Contemporary Artists From Korea at LACMA

Fallen Star 1-5, 2008 and Home Within Home, 2009
Do Ho Suh

There’s no shortage of albums that rise to the ranks of the memorable only because of one or two catchy hits among otherwise dull tracks, and there are plenty of sporting events that were relatively routine save that one, pulse-quickening, game-changing play. Either could be a metaphor for Your Bright Future: 12 Contemporary Artists from Korea, an exhibition currently on view at LACMA. This show features fantastic work — work I’m still thinking about, work I’ve gone back to see again — but there’s also quite a bit that warrants forgetting. This is not to say that much of it fails to exhibit qualities of earnestness or cleverness but rather that much of what’s here reveals how little return such qualities will get you by themselves. One might be tempted to make generational or genre-based categorical assumptions about why Your Bright Future turned out as it did, but the fact is there’s simply stronger work (some) and weaker (much). as well as some work that makes for interesting situations if not necessarily interesting experiences. The latter category includes Choi Jeong-Hwa’s conversion of LACMA’s new entry pavilion into a forest of garlands comprising strung-together mass-produced plastic products, or his wrapping of the Ahmanson building in red, yellow and blue plastic bunting. While not necessarily riveting (though the plastic forest has its minor pleasures) these works do provide interesting case studies in what has become LACMA’s growing tradition of embracing artists’ efforts to reinscribe its edifice and interiors, which gets more interesting when matters of cultural and national displacement come into play. And play they do in an exhibition that is emblematic of the increasingly complicated state of contemporary art, as internationalism and localisms continue to try to find their places within one another — a scenario simply yet poignantly addressed in Kimsooja’s six-channel video of the artist seemingly dropped into the middle of street scenes in cities around the world. But while there are artists in this exhibition, and plenty elsewhere, who deal compellingly and at times profoundly in the slippage of gaps and overlaps between worlds singular and plural, several of the artists here seem to see such an arena as a pit to mine casually. This is the case with Haegue Yang’s yawn-inducing display of pallets, boxes and shipping containers, which regrettably is the exhibition’s finale. At the other end of the spectrum and the show are the two works you encounter first, and that by themselves make this exhibition one not to miss, both of them by Do Ho Suh. The first comprises a meticulous scale model of a traditional Korean home seemingly crashed, as if it had been flying, into a scale model of the apartment building where the artist lived while studying at the Rhode Island School of Design. The apartment building is also sliced from corner to corner, as if by a giant saw, allowing viewers to peer into the units and observe both the variety of homes and implied lives lived within them, and the degree of impact coming from an event that marries the sort of fantasy humor one finds in the recent Disney-Pixar hit Up with the incessant implication of architecture, and attacks upon it, in the integration, assimilation and clash of cultures. Also sliced, in this case into quarters, is a cast-resin replica of the same building, here with the Korean home imbedded within it. Apparitional yet decidedly tangible, it offers a haunting, subtle flip side to its theatrically booming counterpart. These two works offer just the latest in an ongoing trail of evidence as to Suh’s range and mastery, and they make a sound argument for why you’re better off, if possible, to go through this show backward.

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