August December 2004, Buddha with Lucky Objects

The Speed Museum, Louisville, KY

Karen Gahafer



Small and inexpensive, everyday items take on a spiritual meaning when arranged by Korean American artist Ik-Joong Kang, who lives and works in New York City, first arrived in America, he was fascinated with objects that the consumers purchased here.

Over the years the native of Cheong Ju, Korea collected mass quantities of these treasures from five- and- dime stores, objects such as hand held blenders, plastic souvenirs, and even small childrens toys like a metal xylophone.

Recently the fruits of this undertaking made an appearance in the exhibition: Buddha with Lucky Objects, which is installed in Speeds Presences Gallery.


The artist, who received a Bachelors of Fine Arts from Hong-IK University in Seoul in 1984 and a Master of Fine Art in 1987 from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, is noted for his small format compositions in which he meticulously re-creates a larger, more interactive installation piece, which invites the viewer to experience the whole work of art.


The area is silent as the viewer walks up the ramp and enters the door. To the left of the door, an exposed area is circumfused with gold, inviting curiosity to come take a closer look.

Upon entering is silence. Inside this dimly lit space, three concaved panels with thousands of small Buddha figures, painted on wood block, are placed to create intrigue. As the viewers come closer to the central circular enclosure, they see hundreds of objects that Kang collected; also sound begins to fill this space.

Tiny chime-like sounds echo throughout as the walls vibrate, as if a presence other than the occupant exists. Once the viewer ceases to move, the sounds diminish; again there is silence.


Kang explains that the viewer sees, Buddha, Buddha sees the standing person, and in turn the viewer then reflects on him or herself in the silence.

Julien Robson, the curator of Contemporary Art and visionary behind presence, explains this installation piece, In one sense it becomes this really interesting cultural hybridity the repetition of Buddha and creation of an almost sort of sanctuary space; this space becoming spiritual.

Robson added, The area in which the wooden Buddha figure is seated will be heavenly lit. Then the sense of it is something that makes you present. It is acknowledgment of the presence in which you are the controller.


An interesting juxtaposition adds to this exhibit. The surroundings of the outer exterior of the museum room, which houses the Presence gallery, is filled with Christian tapestry, while the interior space is filled with Buddha Spirituality.

It is like inside a temple, Lanna Versluys, community Relation of The Speed said.

When asked what response he was trying to evoke in the viewer when they encounter Buddha with lucky Object, Kang replied, I want the viewers to swim freely experiencing my art in an intellectual playground.

Kangs work is about the past and present; interviewed are experiences upon his arriving in the United States and influences from his Korean childhood, like the shamans in the village from where he once lived. His piece connected them for the viewer to feel on a spiritual level. Buddha with Lucky Object is also about identity. Kang explains that he is a tightrope walker. In the center he hold the stick in which he must balance the past and the present.