From LA to Seoul: Félix González-Torres retrospective, Interactive art at MOLAA and Kumho, Artspectrum at Leeum, Do Ho Suh, Gala Porras-Kim

Félix González-Torres, “Untitled” billboard in a Seoul subway station; Photo by Daniel Lara

This past month I’ve been roaming around Asia, not only eating amazing food but also checking out the local art scenes in each place.  My first stop was Seoul in South Korea.  Notes on Looking contributor Andy St. Louis, who lives there, nicely organized a detailed itinerary of important and interesting art spots in this lively city.  Luckily NOL readers will soon be able to read Andy’s coverage of the upcoming 9th Gwangju Biennale.

As I walked around Seoul’s many museums and galleries, I couldn’t help but make connections with LA’s art scene, more specifically LA’s Latin art scene.  First of all, the big show going on this summer until Sept 28 is Cuban-born Félix González-Torres, his first retrospective in Asia.  We know his work well in the U.S. as he died quite young in NYC in 1996, due to AIDS.

Surprisingly, I first came across his work in a Seoul  subway station, a billboard of an unmade, unoccupied bed with two pillows.  Immediately I felt the sense of loss and longing that González-Torres often portrays in his work.  But I also noticed the two pillows together and touching; a feeling of love and connection is equally created.  As I traveled around the city, I began to spot the same billboard, six in total.

Félix González-Torres, “Untitled” (Perfect Lovers); Photo by Daniel Lara

This retrospective on view at Plateau, Samsung Museum of Art in central Seoul also has work on view at its sister museum Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art, such as two round wall clocks Untitled (Perfect Lovers), which plays with the notions of love, partnership and duality (The clocks are set at the same time but then eventually one goes slightly off) and the light string which holds 42 bulbs (specific numbers hold importance in González-Torres’ work).  The lights demonstrate the “malleability of meaning and form”.  Overall, his works are minimal and reflect his private life.

Félix González-Torres “Untitled” (For Stockholm) at Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art, Seoul; Photo by Daniel Lara

I’ve seen González-Torres’ candy works before in other exhibitions.  I love that the viewer participates in its being and destruction.  At Plateau, a long, narrow pile of green candies represent the green-like grass by the Los Angeles road where the artist and his lover lived.  In the gallery room next to this piece is Untitled (Placebo), a massive rectangular shape made of approximately 500kg of candies wrapped in silver cellophane, partly alluding to the unresponsive U.S. government and its delayed clinical trials during the AIDS crisis. Viewers take the candies and scatter the initial hard-edge structure of its form and eat the life away of each one.  The museum then replenishes the work as the piece calls for an “endless supply”.  There is a sense of both permanence and renewal.

González-Torres had explained, “This work originated from my fear of losing everything.  This work is about controlling my own fear.  My work cannot be destroyed.  I have destroyed it already, from day one.”

Félix González-Torres “Untitled” (Rossmore II) at Plateau, Seoul; Photo by Daniel Lara

Félix González-Torres “Untitled” (Placebo) at Plateau, Seoul; Photo by Daniel Lara

Just before leaving for Asia, I was able to see Félix González-Torres’ work in the current exhibition Play with Me at  Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA) in Long Beach.  This interactive group exhibition features 15 medium and large scale installations by 14 artists interested in the relationship of the object with the spectator.  It was a fun exhibition for viewers, as we were able to touch, participate, share and interact with art works in a museum setting that normally prohibits these actions.  After eating my mint candy from González-Torres installation and entering into the main gallery, I noticed viewers had become players in a game of “ping pond”, thanks to Mexican artist Gabriel Orozco.  Other artists in this show include: Alberto Baraya (Colombia), Franklin Cassaro (Brazil), Cubo (Giacomo Castagnola, Camilo Ontiveros, Nina Waisman, Felipe Zúñiga), Dream Addictive (Mexico/Leslie García and Carmen González), Felipe Ehrenberg (Mexico), Darío Escobar (Guatemala),  Federico Herrero (Costa Rica), Rafael Lozano-Hemmer (Mexico), Ernesto Neto (Brazil), Rubén Ortiz-Torres (Mexico), Pedro Reyes (Mexico), and Sofía Táboas (Mexico).

Félix González-Torres “Sin titulo” (Retrato de papá) at Museum of Latin American Art, Long Beach, CA

Gabriel Orozco “Ping Pond Table” (1998) in “Play with Me” at MOLAA

Dream Addictive consists of artists Leslie García and Carmen González from Tijuana, Mexico.  Their interactive machine for Play with Me has an electronic interface with sensors and processing software that is able to read your mood based on physiological information and connect it to Twitter’s search engine.  Based on your mental state, the skin relays a message to the device.  In response you get a fortune from Twitter’s virtual, online community.  Mine came from a Bob Marley song.

Dream Addictive (Mexico/Leslie García and Carmen González) “Deep Thought V.2 (Artificial Entropic System)” in “Play with Me” at MOLAA

Cubo consists of artists Giacomo Castagnola, Camilo Ontiveros (whose work was exhibited in Made in LA), Nina Waisman and Felipe Zúñiga.  The collective’s installation at MOLAA,  Media Womb, allows you to listen to different sounds in Tijuana as you move across the seat, triggering the sensors.  One side triggers sounds from everyday life in this border town.  The other side triggers tabloid news stories.  The border has two perspectives, as does this piece.

Cubo (Giacomo Castagnola, Camilo Ontiveros, Nina Waisman, Felipe Zúñiga) “Media Womb” in “Play with me” at MOLAA

In Darío Escobar‘s 0 to 0, it is impossible to score a point.  I thought this piece was perfect to show during the Olympics.

Darío Escobar (Guatemala, b. 1971) “0 to 0” in “Play with me” at MOLAA

With all this interaction in mind I was happy to bump into another interactive art show in Seoul at Kumho Museum of Art.  The group exhibition Doing is much like the one at MOLAA; viewers can enter installations, play and create.  The exhibition spaces become the artists’ studios, open to the audience.  Artist Hyung-Kwan Kim, in his piece Unlimitedness, uses color tape as his main material.  One part of the canvas is filled by him and the other by everyone else, creating colorful, geometric designs.

Walking on Hyung-Kwan Kim’s “Unlimitedness” at Kumho Museum of Art, Seoul; Photo by Daniel Lara

Visitors interact with Hyung-Kwan Kim’s “Unlimitedness” at Kumho Museum of Art, Seoul; Photo by Daniel Lara

Minja Gu’s Atlantic-Pacific co. is a recreation of an imaginary shop from a road in Brooklyn, New York, where groceries sell items from different countries and cultures, a commentary on globalism and capitalism.  I couldn’t help but notice all the Latin items on sale… I felt like I was back in East LA!

Minja Gu, detail from “Atlantic-Pacific co” at Kumho Museum of Art, Seoul

WISE Architecture created a space with non-architectural language, open for visitors.  Phenomenal Landscape is a structure made with tubes filled with flowing liquid.  The flow and flexibility reflect a contradiction to a controlled, stiff architecture.

WISE Architecture “Phenomenal Landscape” at Kumho Museum, Seoul; Photo by Daniel Lara

WISE Architecture “Phenomenal Landscape” detail at Kumho Museum of Art, Seoul; Photo by Daniel Lara

One of my favorite works in the show is Se-Kyun Ju’s Notional Flag.  Using colored sand, the artist creates a collectivity of symbols from real national flags.  After meticulously making the piece, the artist destroys the flags by sweeping them away, thus questioning the fragility and uncertainty of the world.  This is another perfect work to show during the Olympic summer.

Se-Kyun Ju, video still from “Notional Flag” at Kumho Museum of Art, Seoul

Se-Kyun Ju, video still from “Notional Flag” at Kumho Museum of Art, Seoul

Se-Kyun Ju, video still from “Notional Flag” at Kumho Museum of Art, Seoul

Fortunately I was in time for the fourth edition of Artspectrum, an exhibition of emerging Korean artists at Leeum.  Most interesting were the video works by Jun Sojung, Han Kyung Woo and Oak Jungho.  Jungho’s hilarious photographs and videos poke fun at contemporary society through his unconventional self-disciplinary work involving yoga performances while wearing a suit in the middle of a fast paced contemporary city.

Oak Jungho; Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art, Seoul

Oak Jungho; Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art, Seoul

Oak Jungho; Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art, Seoul

While walking down the stairs to the lower level of Leeum, I found this amazing staircase.  Some of you might recognize Do Ho Suh’s work, who was in the show Your Bright Future: 12 Contemporary Artists from Korea at LACMA in 2009.  I luckily got to see that same piece, Fallen Star 1/5, 2008-2011, at Lehmann Maupin gallery in Chelsea last fall.  Imagine a traditional Korean hanok slammed into the side of a super detailed Victorian apartment building that’s been sliced in half.  If you have never seen Do Ho Suh’s work, then you should drive to UC San Diego and check out Fallen Star, perched on the corner of the seventh story of Jacobs Hall at the Jacobs School of Engineering Building, which also deals with similar themes of cultural identity, displacement and memory.

Do Ho Suh “Staircase” at Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art, Seoul; Photo by Daniel Lara

Do Ho Suh “Fallen Star 1/5, 2008-2011” at Lehmann Maupin, New York City

Do Ho Suh, “Fallen Star” at UC San Diego; Photo from

After a day of museums and galleries, I was ready to meet some artists face to face.  Andy St. Louis had told me about a panel discussion going on at Artsonje Center in Seoul.  Another Korean friend and artist Hae Yoon had told me about the same event.  Little did I know that the art scene in Seoul is very tiny and that everyone knows each other, so it was perfect…both of our friends that I had planned to meet up with already knew each other and were going to the same talk.  Sound like LA?

North Korea from the demilitarized zone (DMZ)

Since I mostly discuss the work of Latino artists, at some point I end up talking about the border.  Similarly, Korea has a complicated border situation.  North and South Korea have been divided for the last 59 years and the closest you can get to either side is by visiting the demilitarized zone, or the DMZ.  The panel discussion at Artsonje Center was exactly about this place and the first exhibition, Real DMZ Project 2012, happening in the border area of Cheorwon-gun, Gangwon-do.  Organized by Samuso, a group of eleven international artists were invited to present their art works in this heavily armed, high security and tense place.  It is not only an important strategic point for the military but also symbolically significant.

“Real DMZ Project 2012” artist panel at Artsonje Center, Seoul; Photo from

The artists discussed their works and also the difficulties they faced to install artworks in the DMZ, as they had to abide by the same restrictions for all visitors, such as time limits and access.  German artist Dirk Fleischmann talked about his installation (with Korean artist Shin Hyo-Chul) Chandelier 363-931, a work that is 500 meters down inside an underground tunnel where the south and north sides meet.  The tunnel was originally created by Pyongyang in its attempt to invade the south.  The deconstructed chandelier sits on a mirror surrounded by darkness.

Dirk Fleischmann “Chandelier 363-931” from “Real DMZ Project 2012”; Photo from

Visitors to the DMZ can use telescopes to look closer at the landscape of North Korea.  Because this area is closed to humans, nature is thriving.  This preserved landscape inspired French artist Francois Mazabraud to project his own imagination onto the inaccessible area.  He discussed his work Hidden Landscape, in which the artist manipulated a telescope to show frames from the video game Call of Duty.  As the viewer peers to see North Korea, he ends up seeing images of fictitious war scenes, blurring the lines between what is real and what our imaginations think is real.

Real DMZ Project 2012 is going on until September 16.  Artists include Amadine Faynot, Dirk Fleischmann, Hwang Sejun, Lyang Kim, Sylbee Kim, Jooyoung Lee, Francois Mazabraud, Simon Morley, Suntag Noh, Part-time Suite, and Nicolas Pelzer.

Gala Porras-Kim in her studio on Chung King Road playing the LP Whistling and Language Transfiguration

An LA artist who brings both her Latin and Korean roots together in her work is Gala Porras-Kim.  Before leaving for Asia, I was able to visit her studio in Chinatown and see her exhibition Prospecting Notes About Sound on view at 18th Street Arts Center in Santa Monica.

Porras-Kim’s practice is based on heavy research and study.  Some of her works function as epistemological tools which can help learners to access information about an unfamiliar culture, in this particular project the Zapotec language.  (She has also made works about the Korean language…which I probably should have used before going on my trip!). NOL readers might remember Geoff Tuck’s post on Porras-Kim’s last show at Commonwealth and Council, which this current show definitely stems off from.  Check it out here.

In her studio, Porras-Kim played me Whistling and Language Transfiguration, which uses the tonal qualities of the Zapotec language to translate stories of the Tlacolula Valley in Oaxaca into its whistled form.  While listening to it, I became aware how all over modern day Mexico (not just Oaxaca), Mexicans continue to use whistling as a way to communicate.  (If you don’t know how to whistle, this can be a problem if you live there… especially for men.)

Gala Porras-Kim detail from “For Learning Zapotec Verbs”

Gala Porras-Kim detail from “For Learning Zapotec Verbs”

Porras-Kim’s interdisciplinary work is exciting and fresh.  The more I see her work, the more layers I discover.  In the current exhibition I tried to follow the instructions on her drawings with post-it notes on how to make the different whistle sounds.  So beware, if you make me mad in Mexico (or in East LA!) I can now defend myself with a simple yet meaningful whistle.

Gala Porras-Kim; Photo courtesy of 18th Street Arts Center, Santa Monica

Gala Porras-Kim; Photo courtesy of 18th Street Arts Center, Santa Monica

Prospecting Notes About Sound is on view at 18th Street Arts Center in Santa Monica until September 7.

Ok, I’m starting to have bulgolgi withdrawals… off to K-Town!


  1. What a wonderful and informative trip through the Korean (and other) art scene. The photos as well as the narrative are beautiful. I can’t wait for the next installment. Thanks, Carlyn and Daniel.

  2. Thank you Carlyn, such a beautiful and fascinating post. You brought your experiences and observations to the reader with insight and connection.

  3. Carlyn,
    It all sounds so interesting, and I love the connections of the work. Thanks for including plenty of pictures too:)

  4. Thanks for providing so much through your writing and pictures, from far and close. Great post!

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