Seoul

Haneyl Choi, Bulky_fusion 2, 2021, mixed media, 74 3⁄4 × 47 1⁄4 × 55 1⁄8".

Haneyl Choi, Bulky_fusion 2, 2021, mixed media, 74 3⁄4 × 47 1⁄4 × 55 1⁄8".

Haneyl Choi

Haneyl Choi has been on a tear recently, his mischievous sculptures of abstracted figures alighting in no fewer than a dozen group shows in Seoul in the past two years. At Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art, a stack of three black hemispheres formed a kind of tar-covered snowman on one side, while the other was flat, pink, and adorned with two breasts, a penis, arrows, and dashed lines: the body as mutable construction. For a display of work by gay men that Choi organized at the Museumhead space, a mold of a forearm was stuck on a thin wire stand, extending a middle finger that had been broken off: rebellion denied. And in a kind of nightclub that Kang Seung Lee made for his solo outing this past fall about queer history at Gallery Hyundai, in which Lee featured fellow artists, two off-white balls sat in front of a tall cylinder topped with a Los Angeles Dodgers cap: the body as tumescent phallus. All of which is to say that Choi, who is thirty and based in Seoul, adopts diverse imagery for his irreverent ends, and in his first solo museum show, he had the opportunity to flaunt his unusual range.

The culture of gay male bodybuilding was the loose focus of the show, which was curated by Yeon Woo Chang. Lending the exhibition its title was Bulky (all works 2021), a plastic man in his underwear, just under five feet tall, flexing in a corner, with chrome muscles affixed to his arms, torso, and groin like armor. Before him were five sculptures making up an otherworldly gym. Wrapped around an elliptical machine was a tangle of Franz West–style thin red epoxy, at once dominating the equipment and bound to it, in Bulky_sex (combine) 3. Next to it, two intricate, vaguely human forms—one of angular pieces, the other of bulbous curving components—seemed to be involved in some type of sex act on a massage table; this was Bulky_sex (combine) 1. Nearby, two shapes resembling the Hangul letter ㅅ (siot) leaned into one another, creating an arch, titled Bulky_fusion 1. The colored satba belts wrapped around each object identified them as Korean wrestlers, and an accompanying text by curator Gyusik Lee explained the arrangement as a reference to the “fusion” pose in the Japanese anime series Dragon Ball, whereby two male characters morph together into a single stronger being.

Using languages drawn from modernist and contemporary sculpture (Rachel Harrison’s work looms large), Choi sometimes speaks in codes, sometimes with bracing candor, to tease out the queer notes that he identifies in disparate domains. The presence of such overtones in some men’s workouts and anime may not exactly be a mystery, but, per Lee’s text, Choi has also homed in on more surprising examples, such as the story of Ichadon, a sixth-century Buddhist martyr in Korea whose beheading sent jets of white milk flying from his corpse. Choi placed his own depiction of the monk’s head atop a solid-white cylinder in a side room. At its base, a brief video displayed footage of someone using an ink brush to draw the long smooth lines of an orchid intercut with clips showing shaving cream pooling on the ground, salad dressing smothering lettuce, and toothpaste spewing from a tube. The work was a heady admixture of the spiritual and the ribald—art that encourages mischievous and expansive symbolic thinking.

The show’s pièce de résistance, Bulky_fusion 2, was a dense sprawl of rough-hewn salmon-pink sponges and blue boxes beneath spindly white and yellow slices of board. For those initiated into the artist’s idiom, it suggested a raucous orgy: at least three bodies morphing into one potent force. Otherwise, it probably looked like a mess. Emblazoned on some parts of the pile were QR codes linked to a page on the popular porn platform OnlyFans, with close-ups of Choi’s individual sculptures; this is the artist’s commentary, perhaps, on how his art playfully walks the line of queer visibility. A subscription to this page is free, a generous invitation into his world, but one that extends only so far. The good stuff requires more investment, as all good things do. A post titled “cumshot compilation” costs $50 to view. Four times the price of a museum ticket!