Brooklyn, New York
Black & White Gallery/Project Space
Born in Korea, Sook Jin Jo has lived and worked in New York for decades; it is hard to see her as anything other than a New York artist. She would likely agree with this, though she visits Asia regularly—indeed, the works in this show came from a 2014 residency in Shanghai. Occupying a middle ground between two and three dimensions, these paintings/assemblages perhaps also describe a balance between Asian and Western influences. Jo is best known for her installations of found fragmented furniture, but these works occupy the wall, sometimes reaching out more than a few inches toward the viewer. The relief quality maintains Jo’s interest in sculptural process, even as she aligns with painting.
The balance between genres proves key to these assemblages, which scheme against the tyranny of painting. Perhaps the gap between Asian and Western sculpture is more easily bridged than that between the two styles of painting, one dominated by ink and the other by oil. Even Jo’s choice of materials for the “Shanghai Black” series indicates a merger—the works are made with Chinese ink, oil, acrylic, found fragments, and plywood. Shanghai is a sophisticated city, China’s closest counterpart to New York. Jo’s response to the site of her residency can be seen inShanghai Black #2, a fairly deep relief that consists of different planes of loosely brushed, dark color painted on wooden supports. There is no figurative imagery on these flat surfaces, which add up to an abstract relief sculpture.
How to make sense, then, of works that are both sculptural and painterly? Is such a question still valid? The abstraction of Shanghai Black #8 feels like 20th-century Western painterly abstraction, but there is an aura, absurdly difficult to specify, that suggests the sensibility of Eastern origins. Here, the top plane is occupied by areas of tan and reddish-orange, along with a bit of blue. The lower plane is much more darkly painted, a near black on its top half and a dark brown on the bottom. A small projection at the very bottom of the assemblage emphasizes its sculptural attack. Shanghai Black #10 returns to a deeper depth, with three planes of plywood layered on each other. We see only the red edge of the bottom piece, an expanse of untouched brown wood from the middle element, and the full red- and black-painted surface of the final, top element. Two small green additions contribute additional depth. This work, like the other two, indicates a middle ground in which sculptural expression appropriates painterly surface to highly successful effect.