Critics’ Picks

View of “Christina Yuna Ko: Bathing in Public,” 2021–22.

View of “Christina Yuna Ko: Bathing in Public,” 2021–22.

New York

Christina Yuna Ko

Selenas Mountain
63 Woodward Avenue #6321, Queens
November 7, 2021–January 8, 2022

Christina Yuna Ko’s solo exhibition here, “Bathing in Public,” is a portal into gauzy childhood memories of escaping into digital screens. Ko deftly demonstrates that not much is needed to evoke the dreamy bathhouse setting that often appears in her favorite Korean soap operas and variety shows. The mere suggestion of a floor drain or fogged window, as we see in the artist’s installation at the gallery, conjure a sensation of warm water from a painted cutout shower head, or of steam rising to fog up a mirror. Punctuated by soothing pastel pinks and baby blues, Ko’s sybaritic aesthetic also evokes the soft tunes of vaporwave and lo-fi, genres of music where nostalgia for the Orient lends an exotic detail to chill beats.

The gallery walls are tiled with paper squares and a generic gradient landscape, making recollection immediate yet fragile. Accoutrements are available in both literal and make-believe forms—such as a real washcloth presented as a found object and, nearby, a painting of oneas if to cherish how kawaii requires no further intervention to be artful. What results is a reliable backdrop for gleeful roleplay, where the eroticism of nakedness can be coquettishly veiled by the innocent necessity of getting clean.

Bathing in public has become a dangerous practice in more ways than one. The racist myths surrounding the origins of the coronavirus have stigmatized Chinatown and Koreatown businesses across the United States as nexuses for anti-Asian violence. In the wake of the Atlanta spa shootings, where white gunman Robert Aaron Long targeted several Asian massage parlors and spas to murder eight people in attempt to curb his so-called sex addiction, the public bath has transformed from a space of pleasure to one of mourning. It is only through being ensconced within this white cube space that the Asian spa is allowed to make sense, look alive, and safely host guests again. Ko’s loving homage to the bathhouse reminds us that this place can once again be an anxiety-free site to repair our broken bodies.