Noh Sang-Kyoon

Noh Sang-Kyoon has had but one modus operandi for more than a decade: He glues rows and rows of sequins all over canvases and found objects, giving every item a signature glistening finish. You may have noticed his twinkling sequined Buddhas at the Armory show in 2004 or in Basel any year since 1999; at the Venice Biennale in 1999, he covered three walls with large sequined canvases. Appropriated from the glitzy world of fashion, sequins still register as gaudy, faux-luxe, and sexy, even when applied to monochromatic painting. Tightly aligned on the surface of the canvas, each reflects light, giving the shimmering surface of Abstract Expressionism a whole new meaning.

When he is not evoking the Greenbergian regime of the flat surface, Noh recalls Duchamp’s readymade: Take a series of found objects (mannequins, statues, CDs, paintbrushes), cover them with the sequins, et voilà! In the ongoing series “For the Worshipers” (started in 1998), he covers statues of Buddha and Jesus with sparkling coral pink, shocking pink, or cobalt blue skin, ultimately combining the spiritual and the material. Their original cult value, in Walter Benjamin’s phrase, is transformed into exhibition value and finally into exchange value. And the more these objects manifest the idea of exchange, the closer they approach the condition of kitsch circa 1939.

The central piece of the show at Gallery Simon, I Love You, 2005, was an enlarged, motorized cosmetic powder case measuring five feet in diameter. Its industrially finished outer case slowly opens and closes, revealing deep pink and cobalt blue sequined linings representing the makeup powder and the mirror, respectively. Just as the mirror is a polished surface of narcissism and self-fetishization, Noh interprets the sequined surface as an aestheticized field that is optical, palimpsestic, and self-reflective. The next series, “One End,” 2005, a group of aluminum plates two feet in diameter coated with green, pink, yellow, or blue sequins, echoed the mirror motif from I Love You, yet their flat metallic support—and the fact that they were hung on the wall—added another dimension: They conflated the condition of two visual devices, mirror and painting. As Benjamin H. D. Buchloh points out in his catalogue essay on Gerhard Richter’s Eight Gray, 2001, the will to reduction evident in the monochrome induces a tendency in painting to change “from a surface of belabored inscription into one of polished perfection.” Thus, the possibility that the immaculate metal plates stand in the place of canvas, often simulating a mirroring surface, is rationalized. Yet in Noh’s case the polished metallic surface is once again brought back to the painterly tradition, since the sequined skin represents both the residual chroma and the artist’s rigorous involvement. Noh’s apparent nostalgia for the act of painting culminated in Endless Love, 2005, a collection of his used paintbrushes, now covered in sequins. Both a fetishizing and a fetishized object, the brush symbolizes Noh’s self-imposed prohibition of, as well as longing for, the act of painting. Thus we witness the artist’s reinvention of the sequin as the medium of post-painterly project.

Shinyoung Chung