Critics’ Picks

View of “Memos and Memories,” 2018.

View of “Memos and Memories,” 2018.


Bahc Yiso

National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA) | Gwacheon
313 Gwangmyeong-ro, Makgye-dong, Gwacheon-si, Gyeonggi-do
July 26–December 16, 2018

Bahc Yiso, the late Korean-born installation artist, arts organizer, writer, and teacher who spent his formative years under the name Mo Bahc as an art student at Pratt Institute and as the owner of the alternative space Minor Injury in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, appears deliberate and hopeful in this retrospective. Bahc died in 2004 at forty-six in South Korea, leaving behind mountains of notes, syllabi, press clippings, proposals, drawings, and sculptures that make the impossible seem less daunting if not achievable.

For Honesty-2, 1996, created a year after he moved back to Korea, Bahc recorded himself singing his own Korean translation of Billy Joel’s syrupy 1978 ballad “Honesty” and then wound the audiotape over a piece of lumber. Joel’s plea becomes Bahc’s: “honesty is such a lonely word / everyone is so untrue / honesty is hardly ever heard / and mostly what I need from you.” A Practical Proposal for the Dissolution of the DMZ, 1988, is a small acrylic brush painting of black lines forming a jewel-like character on a mud-and-gold background. The work is accompanied by a typed note indicating that Bahc sent an amulet and instructions to the heads of state of North and South Korea, the United States, the Soviet Union, Japan, and China. If the leaders incinerated the amulet, stirred the ashes with water, and imbibed the mixture while thinking about the reunification of Korea, Bahc wrote, reconciliation would occur. Thirty years later, things are still bleak. And yet as the United States fumbles in its attempts to build trust with North Korea, South Korea has bulldozed some of its border-guard posts and removed landmines. A far cry from reconciliation—but these are still acts of faith not unlike those articulated in so many of Bahc’s works, which are often neither complete comforts nor accurate forecasts, but footholds for reimagining better futures.