An interview in which the globe-trotting Korean artist discusses his work in conjunction with SAM's "Luminous: The Art of Asia."
Korean-born, and now working primarily between Seoul, New York and London, artist Do Ho Suh jokes that he spends so much time traveling that his real home might actually be aboard an airplane. Yet this “global artist” declares a special affection for our city. “I love Seattle!” he said on a recent visit.
This is something more than just a public-relations sound bite. Suh is convinced that his relationship with Seattle is karmic. In Korean culture, he explains, people believe that “things don’t happen by accident. Things are meant to happen.”
Do Ho Suh (born 1962) has studios in Seoul, London, and New York. His solo exhibitions include those at SAM in 2002 and at the Serpentine Gallery in London, the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, and the Artsonje Center in Seoul. His dog-tag sculpture “Some/One” (2001) is one of the most popular works in SAM’s permanent collection.
The latest evidence of the good karma between Suh and Seattle is to be found in the splendid “Luminous: The Art of Asia” exhibit currently at SAM. Suh worked closely with the show’s curator, Catherine Roche, to present this vast panorama of SAM’s Asian collection in a novel way. Stressing his belief in a museum “without boundaries,” Suh encouraged Roche to set aside orthodox museum practice. The show is hung in neither chronological nor geographical order. Instead, pieces are juxtaposed simply because of the similarities to one another or the correspondences between them. The result is deliberately inexpert, but Suh proposes that it permits a “more fluid” experience.
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Suh’s other principal contribution to “Luminous” is impossible to miss. Suspended right at the show’s heart is his wonderful video installation “Gate,” which was created for this exhibition. In the center of a taut curtain of silk that bisects the gallery is one of Suh’s signature pieces of intricately detailed life-size silk architecture, a re-creation of a traditional gateway at his parents’ home.
The video sequence projected on to the gate and curtain is magical and a must-see for anyone curious about the very best art being made today. It includes animated flying crows (drawn from SAM’s Edo-period “Crows” screen); a time-lapse sequence of the passage of day into night in the garden where the original gate stands; delicately flying insects from the 1843 silk painting “Dragonflies and Butterflies”; and — perhaps most striking of all — a couple of frolicking deer from the museum’s 17th-century “Deer” scroll. It is an homage to the traditional artists who made the work in the rest of the show. “I am here in the center and my heroes are all around,” Suh explains.
By borrowing from these works for his own contemporary installation, Suh acknowledges that his contribution to the show’s curation is based on nothing more than his own interpretation of the collection. His suggestion is that this is all any of us, whether we are a casual visitor or a museum expert, has to rely upon. And this is why Do Ho Suh believes museums need to rethink their role. “People come to a museum and they think what they see is the truth,” he says. “But there is no truth.”