New York

Moon Seup Shim

Sigma Gallery

Moon Seup Shim, one of South Korea’s leading sculptors, belongs to a group of Asian artists who came to international attention during the ’70s, and whose work was viewed in the context of American Minimalism and the related Japanese movement, Mono-Ha. During that period, Shim increasingly centered his work on the relationship between art and nature—employing rocks, found pieces of wood, iron and concrete.

His current series “Wood Deity,” 1987-1991 reflects Shim’s desire to fuse the artist and his work. Like Isamu Noguchi and Richard Serra, he displays a keen understanding of the intrinsic qualities of his materials which he at times manipulates and transforms, and at others leaves almost untouched. In “Wood Deity,” he works with pieces of pine, some of which came from a several-hundred-year-old house. Through rubbing and carving, Shim enhanced the abstract qualities of the wood, revealing an innate beauty and inner life-force. The vital character of Shim’s sculpture depends upon every aspect of the wood: its color, ribbed patterns, notches, solidity, and volume.

Some of these works recall ritualistic objects and shrines, while others suggest spiritual markers. Of the latter group, Wood Deity (9018), 1990, is especially arresting, possessing a transcendental and sacred quality. At first glance the piece appears to be simply an intriguing constructed object: a long, narrow, rounded piece of wood about five-feet-high, supported by two small wedges. The notches along one side and the cuts in its surface indicate that the wood is old—seasoned. Despite its insistent material presence, the sense of history or the passage of time reinforces its incorporeality, its status as a formal archetype. Indeed, Shim’s skillful maintenance of the tension between the physical qualities and the symbolic import of his sculptures lends his work an almost magical quality.

Ronny Cohen