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Recent statistics show that about 11 percent of people living in the United States are foreign-born. Many have experienced the emotional tensions of displacement; of belonging while being alien, of being home while longing for “home.” Few however, have expressed those feelings as powerfully as Korean-born artist Do-Ho Suh, whose exploration of these issues through monumental, three-dimensional works is widely known.
Suh says that his work “starts from a reflection on space, especially personal space…not only a physical one, but an intangible, metaphorical and psychological one.” His site-specific “Staircase-IV,” created from gossamer red nylon fabric for the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Pavilion, is the second in the Perspectives series of exhibitions focusing on the work of leading contemporary artists from Asia and the Asian Diaspora. “Staircase-IV” will be on view through September 26, 2004.
The son of a prominent Korean artist, Do-Ho Suh was born in Seoul, Korea, in 1962 and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Oriental Painting from Seoul National University before moving to the United States in 1993 and continuing his studies at the Rhode Island School of Design and Yale University. His work includes both huge, fabric, tent-like scale reproductions of domestic interiors as well as sculptural works that explore the tension between the individual and the collective. They have been exhibited world-wide and were included in the 49th Venice Biennale in 2001 and the 2003 Instanbul Biennale. In the last three years alone, Suh has held solo exhibitions in Seoul, London, New York, Kansas City and Seattle. Based in New York, Suh leads a semi-nomadic life, traveling the world to install his art. He returns frequently to Korea to visit family and supervise the seamstresses who construct his fabric works, which evoke his childhood home and the interior and staircase of his apartment in the Chelsea district of Manhattan in meticulous, carefully scaled detail.
Suh conceived of his first fabric-based architectural work while living as a student in a noisy New York apartment building across from a firehouse. Recalling the peace and comfort of his childhood home with its translucent rice paper walls, he searched for a light, portable fabric with which to replicate it. Eventually in 1999 as the result of a commission from the Korean Cultural Center in Los Angeles, the diaphanous structure was fabricated on a scale of one foot to an inch that in principle could be packed in a suitcase and carried wherever he went. Reconstructed at successive locations, this “Seoul Home” has since added the name of each city to its title, tracing its passage and modifying the concept of site-specificity.
“Staircase-IV,” on view at the Sackler, is the fourth in Suh’s more recent series of monumental staircases. Meticulously stitched out of a translucent red nylon fabric, “Staircase-IV” replicates the staircase in Suh’s New York apartment in 1:1 scale, complete with architectural detail, creating an uncanny sense of the real while transforming density into lightness and the concrete into the remembered. Hovering just above the Pavilion floor, the flight of stairs rises high above the ground before reaching a large and expansive plateau representing the apartment floor above. “Staircase-IV” invokes movement, impermanence and the promise of transcendence along the anonymous passage from one level to another.
The installation coincides with the museum’s September and October Korean film festival.
This exhibition has been generously supported by the Korea Foundation, USA and the Korea Times-Hankook Ilbo.
The Freer Gallery of Art (12th Street and Independence Avenue S.W.) and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery (1050 Independence Ave. S.W.) together form the national museum of Asian art for the United States. The Freer also houses a major collection of late 19th and early 20th-century American art. Hours are from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. every day except Christmas Day, Dec. 25, and admission is free. Public tours are offered daily. The galleries are located near the Smithsonian Metrorail station on the Blue and Orange lines. For more information, the public may call 202.357.2700 or TTY 202.357.1729, or visit the galleries’ Web site at asia.si.edu.