The New York Times, March 17, 1991, 2
Artists View the World in Statements With 3,142 Images
SUNY at Old Westbury, NY
Helen A. Harrison
Let us take the word of Ik-Joong Kang and Being Lee, the two artists exhibiting at the Amelie A. Wallace Gallery of the State University in Old Westbury, that their installations comprise 3,142 images. Counting them is possible, but not productive.
The show¡¯s subtitle, ¡°More is More,¡± is apt. Both artists use many individual pictures as components of larger statements in which the narrative thread is woven by the viewer.
Mr. Kang¡¯s art is a direct out growth of his everyday experiences, and Mr. Lee creates archetypal symbols based on the interaction of what he describes as a tetralogy of forces – Man, God, Demon and Beast.
Their installations occupy separate gallery spaces, yet complement each other in various ways. Both are composed of squares of imagery mounted on the walls in groups. No single unit stands alone: each is but a small part of an overall picture.
Also, both artists give the impression that the parts can be reorganized at random, according to the dictates of the particular space or depending on the interpretative emphasis desired at the moment.
In Mr. Kang¡¯s case, he chooses to highlight the fact that his is a work in progress. Mr. Lee has arranged his imaged as if a specific story line were emerging from a cache of pictographic symbols.
Mr. Kang, a native of Korean, began his series in 1985 while studying for a Mater of Fine Arts at Pratt Institute.
The elements are executed on three-inch-square canvases, many of them painted while walking the street or riding the subways. They record the momentary stimuli as if in a fragmentary snapshot.
Others incorporate found objects, statements and memorabilia relating to the artist¡¯s life, the art world and the world at large.
Like a scrapbook or diary, the tone is plainly autobiographical. Underlying the mélange of vignettes, however, is a meditation on the cross-fertilizing influences of Oriental and Occidental culture. It is told in personal terms, but is relevant to anyone sensitive to the experience of inhabiting two worlds simultaneously.
A preoccupation with bodily functions serves as a leveling device, perhaps as a reminder that we are all basically alike. Humor is used to deflate art-world pretensions and elitism, and Mr. Kang is not above poking fun at his own aspirations.
Humility and repentance are also recurring themes.
¡°Art is easy,¡± Mr. Kang tells us humbly in one canvas. In another, he asserts, ¡°Eventually, art is for fun.¡±
Yet his endeavor is nor simple game. To distill the essence of the moment, however insignificant or trivial it seems in itself, and shows how it plays an important role in building the totality of experience, requires both perceptiveness and tenacity.
Like the Zen path to enlightenment, the journey is taken one step at a time. That this is a long-term process – perhaps a life¡¯s work – is suggested by a display of what I estimate to be more than 1,000 three inch stretchers for canvases yet to be painted, each labeled with a date in Korean.
The person Mr. Kang is yet to become awaits revelation on these building blocks of the future.
If Mr. Lee¡¯s story remains untold, it is because his rebus of imagery is far more arcane. His symbolism is a kind of private code devised in response to the elemental aspects of man and nature, sometimes in conflict and sometimes in harmony.
On one wall, he has arranged 264 pictographs on foot-square sheets of vellum. Some are recognizable as stylized animals, shells, human faces and ordinary objects, albeit rendered in visual shorthand. Others are more abstract, like the calligraphy of Mr. Lee¡¯s native China.
Growing up in Hong Kong, Mr. Lee experienced a multicultural environment in which Eastern traditions and Western values commingled. In his art, sumo wrestlers, Mickey Mouse, an incense burner and a fedora are all grist for the image mill.
A resident of the United States since 1974, Mr. Lee has an acute sense of the cultural contradictions inherent in Asian and American life. Like Mr. Kang, he struggles within himself to reconcile the dichotomy, but his battle is on the metaphysical plain.
Benevolent and malignant influences are seldom clearly defined, although occasionally one image emerges as good or bad.
A forked-tongue face, a headless giant and a masked profile represent deceit, mindless force and concealed intentions. Flowerlike organic forms, house shapes and geometric figures suggest harmony, stability and balance.
While the narrative is implicit, it is also disjointed, resisting linear interpretation. We have to abandon conventional reading techniques and invent our own format, combining and rearranging each piece until the puzzle falls into place.
The exhibition was organized by the gallery director, Eugenie Tsai, and will be on view through Saturday. The gallery is on the main level of the Campus Center Building. The hours the exhibition is open are Monday through Thursday and Saturday from 1 to 5 P.M., as well as by appointment.