New York Newsday, February 4, 1992

An Installation of 7,000 Ik-Joong Kang Works

Tiny Windows on the World

Esther Iverem



The childlike drawing of a green army tank reappears in artist Ik-Joong Kang¡¯s multi-media installation, ¡°3x3,¡± at the Queens Museum.

Over one tank are the words ¡°Born in N. Y.¡±

Over another: ¡°War.¡±

And over a third: ¡°We Like Tyson.¡±


Each image and its caption is contained on a canvas measuring 3 inched by 3 inched among 7,000 equally small works in the installation.  Located in the museum¡¯s first-floor contemporary-currents gallery, the solo exhibit, which also features recorded voices, is scheduled to run until April 12.


Kang¡¯s varied words, paintings and mounted found objects – a laminated Ritz cracker, a Ken doll head or sexually explicit references to the human form, for example – are a little alike the quick images and sound bleeps to which we¡¯ve become accustomed in the video age.  They create a scrapbook of passing thoughts as well as deep meditations and actions taken.  Assembled in random fashion on the sides of three room-sized cubes, the snippets of language and image form a jumbled history of Kang¡¯s life and insight into his artistic process.


¡° I believe ideas are floating in the air, not just in my mind,¡± says the artist, a stocky man with an easy laugh, as he sits in the museum¡¯s first-floor auditorium.  ¡°I just open my mind.  I try to let ideas follow me.  Art can be a method of seeing many things.¡±


Drawing an invisible line between his eyes, Kang says the distance is three inches.  ¡°This is my window to the world,¡± he adds, holding in front of his eyes the small frame he has created by connecting four of his fingers.


It is a window, he says, that overlooks mountains: ¡°I use mountains as a metaphor,¡± he explains.  ¡°I climb a mountain every day to see future.  I climb one and see there is another one to climb.¡±  There are also views of rivers, religion, sex, politics, people and, in the process, New York City.


The artist ¡°consistently uses humor and irony,¡± says Louis Grachos, organizer of the exhibit and now director of exhibitions for the museum.  In the brochure / catalog accompanying the show, Grachos writes that ¡°the cross-cultural imagery¡± expressed in Kang¡¯s work ¡°mirrors the flux of his own identity as an Asian artist assimilating into the Western world.¡±


Kang started working with his small format while living in the Ridgewood section of Queens and commuting for hours to a job at a flea market in Far Rockaway.  More time was consumed going to classes at Pratt Institute in Fort Greene.  In the deep pockets of his coat he carried a few small canvases, small drawing papers, pens, magic markers, Liquid Paper and a needle and thread.  Fitting the paper or canvas snugly in his palm and using a mixture of the portable media, he sometimes completed four works in one trip.


¡°Trust Me.  I Won¡¯t Get You Pregnant,¡± words copied from a public service advertisement¡± in the subway, found its way onto one of his canvases, as did ¡°Pregnant? We Can Help.¡±

But many of the canvases reflect his own introspection:

¡°I have to lose weight.¡±

¡°I will never go to Atlantic City again.¡±

¡°I had to become strong.¡±

¡°I sold painting to Prudential Company today. I want to eat sushi tonight.¡±


Kang now lives in Chelsea and tries ¡°to catch and observe all the living¡± of city life during his daily walk to his small studio in Chinatown.  With more time to paint, he has expanded his canvases of words to paintings in a variety of styles, from realistic portraits to abstract images to, most often, images such as the cartoonlike green tank.  Another cartoon includes two men, one seated, underneath the caption: ¡°I go to Chinatown for haircut.¡±


Kang was born in 1960in Cheong Ju, a small town in the center of Korea – ¡°just like Omaha,¡± he says to explain the location.  His father was a businessman, but Kang says he comes from a long line of painters including his grandfather and great-grandfather.  One ancestor, Se-Hwang Kang, he ways, is considered one of the first Korean artists to combine elements of western painting, such as perspective and shadow, with elements of traditional Asian painting.


After studying painting at Hong-Ik University in Seoul, where he also exhibited works at the National Art Museum, Kang arrived in the United States in 1984.  he has had group and solo shows of his miniature views of the world, including at the gallery at Montclair State College in New Jersey, the Broadway Windows Gallery in Manhattan and the Amelie A. Wallace Gallery in Old Westbury.


Starting in 1986, Kang began collaborating with other artists for performance works.  In 1986, he staged a ¡°One Month Living Performance¡± during which he simply painted and created his art before visitors to the Two Two Raw Gallery in Manhattan.


Two years ago, Kang received a fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts.  Last year, apropos of his early working environment, he received a commission from the Metropolitan Transit Authority to create an artwork for the city¡¯s transity system.  (Kang will do the work when the Main Street / Flushing station in Queens is renovated, tentatively planned sometime in the next four years, according to Tito Dacila of the MTA.)  During his early subway-riding years, the artist says, he was inspired by the intricate tile work in many of the stations, which reminded him of panes in a Japanese shoji screen.  Graffiti was also an influence.


In 1990, Kang added sound to his exhibits by installing a tiny speaker behind each painting.  At the Queens Museum, repetitious pedantic phrases from a Korean-English language course – ¡°I¡¯m so full.  I couldn¡¯t eat another bite¡± – are reminiscent of the artist¡¯s own early experience in this country.


¡°All these little squares are keeping track of time,¡± he says of the paintings.  ¡°So I can see how time passes away.¡±  One of Kang¡¯s favorite paintings reads: ¡°My painting is good for memory.¡±