Cody Choi

When Cody Choi moved from Seoul to Los Angeles at age twenty-two, he experienced a particularly painful and protracted form of homesickness: Speaking poor English and ill at ease in the radically different social milieu, the artist suffered from frequent nausea. Pepto-Bismol, his preferred antidote—he consumed as much as a bottle a day—became the material of his first significant work: replicas of clichéd masterpieces like Rodin’s Thinker and the Venus de Milo, all made out of toilet paper soaked in the sick pink, over-the-counter gastrointestinal medication. In the late ’90s, he shifted from sculpture to digitally generated painting. The inspiration came from a more heimisch source, namely, his astonishment over the ease with which his young son could draw accomplished pictures on the computer.

Choi’s recent “digital” paintings are lush, but the field of reference is rather more arch than the adventures of a child in the virtual jungle. Each painting bears the title Abstraktes Bild (all works 2003)—just like so many of Gerhard Richter’s. The explicit invocation of the lauded, vexing, self-contradictory, exhausting, but never exhausted German clinician of painting’s continued possibilities is perverse yet apt in Choi’s paintings. The pictures certainly look, initially, perhaps at a distance, very much like Richter’s. Bands of acidulous VUTEk ink color stream horizontally and vertically across the canvases (more precisely, mesh mounted on canvas). The obvious inversion inherent in Richter’s abstracts is their seemingly mechanistic dissection and desiccation of AbEx gesturalism; it has often been remarked how these paintings somewhat resemble incomplete photo-emulsions even as they are laboriously handcrafted, whereas (yawn) his blurred “photorealist” works are built up from—photographs! Regardless of Richter’s reliance on photographic sources, or the machine-look of his abstractions, they remain labor-intensive precious objects within the tradition of Western painting, critique or no critique of the medium, whether they persist as votive emblems of painting’s ever-renewed vitality (as Robert Storr’s recent Museum of Modern Art retrospective would have it) or the ceaseless drumbeat heralding its execution.

The thing about Choi’s take on Richter is that it seems unnervingly easy, even obnoxiously so. Conceived and composed on the computer and mechanically generated, these paintings are untouched by the artist’s hand, with one significant exception: his signature, written in big white letters in the lower right-hand corner of each one. The paintings are quite spectacular but evacuated of the artist’s identity in all respects except one, the authorial name. Is this Duchampian turn still viable at the beginning of the twenty-first century? Choi certainly believes in the pertinence of the Dadaist “joke,” or gimmick if you like, suggesting that the era of instant digital imaging—or abstracting—gives it a renewed lease on life, or death, or comedy. I wish I had Gerhard Richter’s phone number. I wonder what he would say.

David Rimanelli