Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Art of Sook Jin Jo

Some arts are great because they make us forget about time or space. Others are great because they broaden our ordinary perception by provoking, irritating and confronting us with unsolvable questions. Actually provocation is the common means today.

The art of Sook Jin Jo is none of these.

It is subject to the passage of time, it questions the very origin and future of human beings as well as their relation to the society and the universe. She has once described her work as "expressive minimalistic constructionism" but in so far, there can be drawn a distinction.

Above all, it reconciles the opposites and bestows hope upon the viewer.
Her work titles sound like prayers that do not not belong to a specific religion.

One of her most extensive work is called "wishing bells / to protect and to serve", a public installation commissioned by the Los Angeles City Department of Cultural Affairs. It yields to create understanding among opposite parties, in this case the detainees of a new detention center and the already settled down Japanese community there. The symbolic meaning is complex and hardly to manage but the basic message is that all person's hopes and anxieties are to be heard in order to seek salvation together.

In her days of monetary hardship she started her bohemien career with collecting old wood that was thrown away and enhanced them with new life. In general, recycling is her favorite way to create. Crayon on a pre-used linoleum piece instead of oil on canvas, if you understand.

Her love of wood is one central theme in "chairs" - a compilation of old chairs collected in New York over a decade, arranged to begin a new common history.

Finally it is striking that the artist seeks to meet people and to interact with them. That can be on the streets or dusty basements of New York, with school boys in a distant community in Brazil or with a neighborhood in a Swiss town.

Her work already covers paintings, drawings, photographs, collages, assemblages, installations and performances. What is still missing in her mind is a huge theatrical piece. There will be a day for it for sure.

One Special Visit


Some encounters are more touching and memorable than others.

On a crisp day in January I had the honor to meet Korean artist Sook Jin Jo. Actually it were two days, a Saturday afternoon and a Sunday morning.

New York citizen for over 20 years, she is a big fish in the art scene here as well as in Korea. Seldom did I met such a philosophically and theoretically profound person in the creative profession (being not a theory expert I deem myself competent to say it ;)). And such a humble.

In her peaceful studio and home in the heart of Chelsea, with her kitties and to some Edward Elgar, we talked about being an immigrant, of women's status in Korea of the 80ies and of today, about how her neighbourhood in NYC has changed its face over the years.

She must have a bold spirit as she has grown beyond the conditions set down by her biography - which basically were not a bed of roses: being an Asian female artist, in none of the conventional art disciplines, being progressive in a then very backward society, facing financial difficulties when settling down in this city.

And the food? We had a lot.

Bagels with salmon tatar, black kaviar, goat cream cheese and Roumanian eggplant salad that I brought from Russ & Daughters.

Steemed yam. Peanut butter ice cream with berries and biscotti.

TTeokguk, Japchae, Kimchi Jeon and of course Kimchi.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Mafalda Vintage

One of the few inhabitants I met here so far took me to Brooklyn's Smith-Street and Atlantic Avenue. With quite some efforts I figured out later that the name of the neighborhood must be Boerum Hill. The Atlantic Avenue in that section is full of glorious boutiques and antique shops. Pricey though.

And in between these I spotted the best vintage shop I've ever seen. I know how tiresome it is to name "best of"s at such frequent intervals as I have been doing lately - best food, best shopping, best arts etc... I swear that I will soon point out the not so sunny sides here to regain credibility.

The shop's name is Mafalda and it's named after the mother-in-law of the owner, Christina. Why is it unique? Every piece is chosen and presented with so much spirit and love that in your hands, it feels like an art object of its own.

The colors are vivid and the textiles in such a flawless condition that you are astonished how time could pass away without leaving any traces.

While the winter weather let me shrink back to the same gray colors for countless weeks in a row, I own a silk blouse for the next Miro- or Mondrian-visit since then. And a blazer in Yves-Klein-Blue together with a couple of flower-printed dresses (all these were on heavy sale) keep me asking: when did we ever stop wearing colors? And when will spring come along?

In such moments you bethink what's so great about vintage garments:

  • It is timeless but still makes you aware of history.
  • It makes you grateful to the unknown pre-wearer who has been handling the clothes so well that it still looks newly-made.
  • It's fun to imagine at which occasions it was worn before.
  • It allows you shopping / consuming without wasting new resources.
  • After all, you get the best textile quality at an affordable price as clothes in the 50ies, 60ies, 70ies were meant to last a life long.

Christina told me that she bought her first vintage clothes at the age of 13.
Thirteen. And she was the first person I encountered in this city talking about sustainability while packing my purchase in a simple unprinted paperbag. When I asked her if it didn't hurt to give away these treasures she revealed that the hunting part was the most fun. And the traveling involved with it in her case. How charming.

So thank you, Christina for the bargain! My pictures don't serve your place right but it was a lucky encounter.

Mafalda: 360 Atlantic Avenue Brooklyn
Subway: Hoyt St-Shermerhorn St (A, C, G)

Bergen St (F, G)

Hoyt St (2, 3)

Wed-Sat: 11:00-19:00

Sun: 12:00-18:00

Picture of Christina taken from nymag.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The People Behind Stephen Haller Gallery

In the lucky case, gifted artists are backed by wise supporters - such as gallery owner Stephen Haller, who represents a most exquisite list of contemporary American painters.

We had a nice chat together with his lovely wife Cynthia Griffin, a former documentary film maker. Cynthia told me how much she enjoyed her first stay in Berlin (her enthusiasm for Schöneberg and of course, Mitte) and the galleries near Kochstraße. How their gallery moved from SoHo into a former garage in Chelsea a couple of years ago and found a new inspiring environment - apart from the numerous young showrooms next door Annie Leibovitz owns a huge studio on the opposite site and used to drop by for lunch breaks with a dance crew. And about Linda Stojak's Catholic upbringing that might have influenced her ladies of sorrow.

The reason why the gallery takes charge of only a dozen artists is to pay full attention to each one of them, leading to close and lifelong ties.

An inconspicuously placed lyrical abstract water color alone generated exclaim in delight. Leaving me fantasizing about how many treasures these walls must have sheltered over the decades.

A truly touching video on Ronnie Landfield can be found via the gallery website. Enjoy.