Korean artist creates lit multimedia piece using SAM’s historical materials


Do-Ho Suh

By Jason J. Cruz
Northwest Asian Weekly

“It was never my goal to be successful,” explains Do-Ho Suh.

Yet, the 49-year-old, originally from Seoul, is a rising star in the art community, with his exhibits showing all over the world.

He recently stopped in Seattle to discuss his new piece at the Seattle Art Museum (SAM) before heading to London. Suh’s creation, commissioned by SAM, is part of “Luminous: The Art of Asia,” a new exhibit at SAM. “Gate,” the title of Suh’s piece, is a response to the historical material at SAM. It’s a multimedia presentation with objects projected onto a fabric background.

“The framework for the show evolved over a number of months,” Suh said. SAM curator Catherine Roche worked with Suh in developing the concept. The project follows a trend of museums working with contemporary artists to interact with its encyclopedic works. “It’s a big change in museum practice in the [United] States,” Suh added. “It’s really positive.” Suh indicates that West Coast museums are genuinely more open to these type of works, whereas East Coast institutions are more traditional.


The Do-Ho Suh installation (Photo by Nathaniel Willson)


Suh believes that Asian art is popular and bigger on the West Coast. “Asian art is becoming more important thanks to China and India.” Korean art is changing as well, according to Suh. “It’s getting more respect, in my mind.”

Suh’s contemporary art involves sculptures that challenge conventional notions of space and poses questions of individuality, collectivity, and anonymity.

Suh earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts and Master of Fine Arts in Oriental Painting from Seoul National University. He was a sharpshooter in the South Korean military. After serving his mandatory time in the military, Suh came to the United States in 1993. He attended the Rhode Island School of Design and later received a Masters in Fine Arts in sculpture from Yale University.


The Do-Ho Suh installation (Photo by Nathaniel Willson)


Suh described himself as a typical “starving young artist” when he started out. “I did not own a lot of things,” Suh said. Money was sparse, and whatever he had went back into his art. After finishing school, Suh worked as a freelance carpenter in New York for a year and a half to earn money.

But the physical nature of the work took a toll on Suh’s ability to work on his art. “I couldn’t find studio time,” he said. He recalls falling asleep in his chair at his studio because he was so exhausted from his carpenter work.

In 1998, one of Suh’s friends at Yale advised him to apply for grants to fund his artwork. In his search for art grants, he came across a $10,000 grant for Korean American artists. Suh recalls finding the grant on a Wednesday with the deadline to apply that Friday. He rushed to get his materials in order to meet the deadline. Suh was awarded the grant. He later found out that he was the last applicant to submit materials.

When he received the $10,000, Suh had to decide whether he would use the money for his project or use some of it for himself. “I was thinking if I should buy a car,” Suh recalled. In the end, Suh decided to put the money back into his work.

This proved to be a valuable choice.

“It was a pivotal piece that changed my career,” Suh said of his fabric artwork entitled “Seoul Home.”

Fabric is one of Suh’s favorite materials to work with. Suh recalls its usefulness when he created “Seoul Home,” as he needed to transport the piece from his New York studio to Los Angeles for the showing. “I needed a material that was easily transferable.” Suh explained, “It’s fine, thin, and easy to show.” Suh also finds a practical reason for its use, “[I]t’s An earlier creation, Suh’s “Some/One,” is on display at SAM. The sculpture, a clothing piece made out of military dog-tags, represents Suh’s thoughts as a Korean in the United States.

With his newest sculpture, “Gate,” Suh wants the viewer to acknowledge the passage of time. “Like the moment of enlightenment in Zen Buddhism, passing through a gate takes only a split second, and then it’s over,” Suh explains. “But so many things happen in such a short period of time. With this work, I wanted to extend that moment of passage, to delay it, if only for an instant, to provide the viewer that moment of insight.”

“Gate” took three months to complete, although Roche indicated that Suh and his crew worked long hours daily, which probably equated to six months’ work in three months’ time.

While Suh had no intentions of being successful, he advises young artists not to worry about making it. “Have fun with what you are doing and all the rest will follow.”

The Luminous art exhibit, which includes Suh’s work, will be at the Seattle Art Museum through Jan. 8, 2012. (end)

For more information, please visit www.seattleartmuseum.org.

Jason Cruz can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

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