Critics’ Picks


Koo Jeong A

PKM Gallery
40, Samcheong-ro 7-gil, Jongno-gu
September 30–November 28, 2020

Since the early 1990s, the subtle, mesmerizingly ethereal works of Koo Jeong A have sought to intensify the spectator’s perceptive capacities and defamiliarize quotidian surroundings. In Oslo, 1998, for instance, one walks into a darkened, nearly empty room to encounter modest mounds of aspirin powder lit by a cold, clinical spotlight. In Dr. Vogt, 2010, a series of pen-drawings on small sheets of photographic paper surround a fluorescent pink floor, the intense hue of which infiltrates the walls and the negative spaces of her drawings.

Such phenomenological tropes are revisited in “2020,” Koo’s first solo exhibition at a commercial gallery in her native Seoul. Presented in the venue’s main space is a series of paintings titled “Seven Stars” (all works 2020) and the sculptural group Gossura, Tacit Truth. Both employ phosphorescent pigment, exposing their bare off-white canvas and ceramic surfaces. These seemingly monochrome works, however, glow with neon green stars and flecks when the gallery lights are dimmed at regular intervals. The paintings’ galactic iconography evokes the experience of an observatory, reflecting the artist’s interest in unexplored constellations and parallel universes. The inquiry into light and space spills into the second building, where the spectator encounters a series of sculptures made from ferrite magnets as well as an arrangement of taciturn ink drawings on rice paper. One of the sculptures, which connects the floor and ceiling through a thin queue of ferrite pieces, is titled 518, after its constituent number of units and the beginning of the Gwangju Uprising on May 18, 1980. Outside, an unassuming garden hosts resonance—a miniature version of the glow-in-the-dark outdoor skateboarding rinks Koo has been making since 2012.

In the age of virtual reality and social distancing, it is increasingly rare to have physical experiences which bring to the fore the warm, carnal entity that is the human body. Yet rather than pronounce the exhaustion of phenomenological ideas that occupied the artist throughout her career, the exhibition emphatically reaffirms the urgency of such concerns. Koo lets her viewers float in utter darkness as their senses adjust to the absence of light and to their proximity to other bodies—an intimacy that seems perhaps too close in the present moment, but somehow possible in the artist’s alternate world.