Thursday, November 11, 2010

Myungjin Song at CTRL Gallery

I am very interested in South Korea. It went from being one of the poorest countries on Earth to one of the richest in fifty years, and did it without finding oil (the easy way for a country to get rich) or any other valuable natural resource. What happens to a society of starving peasants that becomes a society of urban bourgeoisie within three generations? When a country suddenly has a lot of extra cash to spend, what do they spend it on? At least some gets spent on art--this is a lesson we know from every successful country in history. But South Korea is a very self-sufficient place--far be it for them to simply import a bunch of art (like Saudi Arabia and the Emirates do). So for South Korea, getting rich means not only more art, but more artists, more art schools, etc. And as an export-oriented country, it also means that their artists are going to look abroad for markets.

Hence shows like Myungjin Song's. I'm interested in how a Korean artist gets noticed by a Houston gallery. But more interesting, in the end, is the art itself. The pieces in this show look like close-up depictions of cloth or a rug or else aerial views of landscapes. The color is invariably green--indeed, her bio says she has an "obsession with chrome oxide green."

Chromium Oxide Green
Chrome oxide green courtesy of Golden Artist Colors

Myungjin Song
Myungjin Song, Folding Surface I, acrylic on canvas, 2010

Obsessed is the word for it. Except for the red dots, the blue-white "string," and the black and gray shading, this could be a painting in chrome oxide green right out of the tube. In fact, I wounder if that was how she began it--a flat monchrome surface, onto which she glazed the folds and painted the dots.

The result it something that looks like a bunched-up piece of green fabric, occupying the entirety of the picture plane. However, it can also be seen as an aerial photograph of some green hills--the folds here look very much like geology at work. This ambiguity is present in most of the works in this show.

Myungjin Song
Myungjin Song, A Foolish Step II, unique digital print, 2010

Here, the ambiguity is threefold. My first thought, when I saw this, was that it was a picture of a grassy lawn. But then I noticed the little grid in the corner and that each pair of blades was stitched to the grid. In short, this was a somewhat abstracted hook-rug. But wait, there is white thing in the middle that on closer examination turns out to be a parachute.

 And in the lower right, the parachutist shows up as a ghostly, partially-rendered figure.

Myungjin Song
Myungjin Song, A Foolish Step II detail, unique digital print, 2010

So are we looking at a rug, a lawn, or a jungle? Or is it better just to think of these as 2-dimensional compositions in chromium oxide green? I like the ambiguity and like these pieces a lot.

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