September 13, 2011
Born in 1974 in Seoul, Korea, but raised in Maryland, artist CYJO sought to explore the lives of Koreans living abroad in her breakthrough series “The KYOPO Project,” currently on view at the National Portrait Gallery. Kyopo refers to any people of ethnic Korean ancestry who live outside Korea and is a reflection of a diverse diaspora. The work consists of a collection of pictures of more than 200 people of Korean descent posed head-on, looking directly at the camera. They are both straightforward and intimate portraits ranging across professions from bankers to students, and ages from the very old to the very young. Accompanying every photo is a short autobiography. The pieces are displayed one after another, juxtaposing a variety of subjects and a wide range of experiences, all helping to define “what it means to be Korean and a citizen of the world.”
I corresponded with CYJO via email to get some insight into her project, her process and her part in the exhibition, “Portraiture Now: Asian American Portraits of Encounter,” at the National Portrait Gallery.
What motivated you to start the KYOPO project?
I didn’t see any photography books in 2004 that covered contemporary issues and the Korean culture. I also was curious to see how individuals who shared the same ancestry contextualized themselves in their societies. And so I decided to create a platform that explored how ethnicity and culture of residence/citizenship related to identity through photographic and textual portraits.
You photographed many different types of people—young and old, white collar and working class, well known and unknown—for the KYOPO project. How did you find each of your subjects and how important was it for you to represent a wide variety of people?
In November of 2004, a random stranger at the time, Sebastian Seung, stood in line behind me at the Cooper Hewitt Museum. He inquired about the exhibition, and I inquired about his ethnicity. After confirming he was Korean, he became the first subject for the project. He recommended a couple of people who recommended others. There were chance meetings with other people who became participants, and the group organically grew into over 200 people over the course of six years.
What was important was to make sure that the group was a sincere sampling and random, not researched. From this grouping, a variety of individuals surfaced. It was a nice surprise to obtain such varied results.
You studied fashion at both New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology and Istituto Politecnico Internazionale della Moda in Florence. How does your fashion background inform your photography?
The process of producing a collection under a theme/idea was definitely exercised through a photographic and textual medium. A concept was developed, and pieces/portraits were created to flesh out the idea. Expressing a concept through a cohesive collection can be applied to many forms of art which include fashion and photography.
Who are your favorite subjects from the series? What about them stands out to you?
It’s hard to say which are my favorites, but below are some of the many memorable participants. Steve Byrne and Bobby Lee—Their fearlessness, surprise, semi-nudity and humor (Bobby had requested that I do an additional personality shot with only his socks on as he squatted and pointed to the sky. And Steve unexpectedly whipped off his shirt last minute before I took the shot). Daniel Dae Kim, Chang Rae Lee, Juju Chang—high profiles in the media who were distinctively humble and modest. Linda Vestergaard—her introduction to Korean cultural exposure in her late twenties, her history as an adopted individual of identical triplets in Denmark, and her journey with embracing her ethnicity where she and her Danish family eventually met her biological parents. Cera Choi and Patricia Han—their courage to defy the odds, overcome extreme challenges and make a difference to better affect their communities. Cera from Anchorage, Alaska, is a single mother of four children, with her youngest suffering from a severe disease, Prader-Willi syndrome. She has helped to create some policies in her community to help families who have family members with special needs. Patricia Han from NYC had lost her husband in the 9/11 attacks. And she took this tragedy as a reminder that she had a purpose in this world to positively contribute, as she still had a lot more than many others did. In turn, she created an orphanage in Bangladesh to help provide a supportive foundation where children could grow and become productive individuals in their societies. Linda Volkhausen and Aiyoung Choi—the earlier pioneers of civic activism and community involvement in America. Suk Pak—He grew up in the Canary Islands and is the co-founder of dramafever.com, the first major portal to bring English sub-titled Korean soap operas into the American vernacular. KYOPO Consultants and Supporters—They provided instrumental support to help realize this project.
In describing the project, you say the goal was to challenge “the idea of a monolithic, ‘authentic’ Korean identity.” How do your subjects’ stories compare? Did you find any similarities besides their shared Korean heritage?
One resounding similarity with most participants was their respect and curiosity for differences due to their bi-cultural/multi-cultural background. They identified with a universal human race. There were definitely generational similarities where children of those families who immigrated in the 60′s and 70′s had certain societal and cultural pressures instilled in them, different from some who had grown up later where ethnicity is celebrated much more.
There were also different types of relationships people had with their ethnicity. One participant, Cabin Gold Kim had parents who wanted to provide the best American experience and environment for him to thrive in their newly adopted American culture. He loved his mom’s grilled cheese sandwiches growing up and didn’t care much for kimchi. And I can still hear his Rochester, New York, guffaw that erupted during our interview.
This contrasted to other participants who visited Korea regularly, spoke the language fluently and preferred to receive their news through Korean media portals.
Other individuals exfoliated their Korean culture off of them to better integrate and assimilate to American society growing up only to come back to it at a matured age, understanding that part of being American was to embrace your heritage.
In the end, each story was individual and uniquely their own.
What would your KYOPO statement say? Has your own Kyopo identity changed over the course of working on this project?
Bits and pieces of my thoughts can be found in select participants’ answers in the KYOPO book published by Umbrage Editions. My identity has not changed but strengthened and expanded over the course of working on this project.
Are there any figures you wish you had the opportunity to add to the series?
The project was done to produce an organic and spontaneous result within a certain framework. My wish was for that element to be maintained. The KYOPO Project illustrates a sampling of individuals, mainly Korean Americans, and does not represent all Korean Americans or KYOPO, but provides a flavoring over a course of time.
What are your thoughts on the Portrait Gallery’s “Portraiture Now: Asian American Portraits of Encounter”? What are your impressions of the work of your fellow exhibitors?
I’m honored to have The KYOPO Project in such a venerable institution and grateful for the opportunity. I’m also honored to be among the six artists represented in the group.
It’s an important and unprecedented event, the first time in the Smithsonian Institution’s history in which an art exhibition of this kind has been executed. The exhibition explores expressions of being Asian in America in a national museum institution that is not defined by a specific ethnicity, but by the American culture.
“Asian American Portraits of Encounter” reinforces the diversity and multiculturalism which partly defines American culture today. And the global audience of over one million visitors that experience this exhibition over the course of the year will be reminded of what makes this country so special and unique, and how cultures continue to evolve as the immigration phenomenon continues.
CYJO will be speaking more about the KYOPO Project during a Gallery360 lecture and book signing at 2 p.m. on September 17 at the National Portrait Gallery.
August 17, 2011
There’s another baby boom at the National Zoo! This summer efforts at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) in Front Royal, Virginia, where Zoo researchers have long advanced their study of veterinary and reproductive sciences, have paid off. The Smithsonian’s reserve for endangered species welcomed the arrival of red pandas, scimitar-horned oryxes, tufted deer, clouded leopards and a white-naped crane. Take a closer look at these new bundles of joy.
1. Red Pandas
Born: June 5, 2011
Sex: Two Females
Mother: Low Mei
Born: June 17, 2011
Sex: Two Females
Parents: Shama and Tate
Red pandas resemble raccoons and are native to parts of China, the Himalayas and Myanmar. On June 5, Low Mei gave birth to two female cubs in her brand new facility at the SCBI. On June 17, three-year-old Shama also gave birth to two female cubs. Shama and her mate, Tate, live on the Asia Trail at the National Zoo. Animal keeper Jessica Kordell says “each cub means a chance for the species to survive.”
2. Tufted Deer
Born: July 23, 2011
Tufted deer are smaller than white-tailed deer and have brown coloring with white underparts, a gray head and very small antlers. On July 23, the 14-year-old tufted deer Marilyn gave birth to her fourth fawn at the Front Royal facility. (Say that ten times fast.) SCBI is currently working on a number of basic reproductive research projects related to the tufted deer, which is considered near threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN).
Born: May 13, 2011
Parents: Jao Chu and Hannibal
Clouded leopards in the wild live throughout southeast Asia, in countries such as southern China, Taiwan and the Malaysian peninsula. At SCBI, Jao Chu gave birth to one female cub on May 13. As of July 25, the cub was weighing in at 3.6 pounds and had started eating meat. SCBI is at the forefront in developing new techniques for successful breeding, including hand-rearing cubs from birth and matching them with mates when young. Clouded leopards are currently listed as a vulnerable species by the IUCN.
Born: May 6, 2011
Parents: Brenda and Eddie
White-naped cranes breed in China, Mongolia and Russia, and winter in southeast China, Japan and the Korean peninsula. Cranes Brenda and Eddie hatched their first chick on May 6. The chick, a male, is a result of natural breeding and is healthy according to its keepers. “Usually crane chicks are timid and always stay beside one of their parents when keepers are around, but this chick is bold and will often run ahead of its parents to meet the keeper delivering food to them,” says the Zoo’s Chris Crowe. White-naped cranes are currently listed as a vulnerable species by the IUCN.
Born: June 12, June 18 and June 22, 2011
Sex: Three Males
Scimital-horned Oryxes are white with a red-brown chest and black facial markings. They have long, thin, curving horns that resemble a scimitar sword. The scimitar-horned oryxes at SCBI produced three male calves in June. The calves, born June 12, June 18 and June 22 are doing well, according to SCBI research physiologist Budhan Pukazhenthi. SCBI is a pioneer in artificial insemination techniques for the scimitar-horned oryx, and the center’s future goals for this species include establishing a genome resource bank to help their global genetic management.
Born: May 28, 2011
Six-year-old Amani gave birth to five cubs on May 28 at their SCBI facility. “We are very excited that Amani had such a large litter of cubs this time,” says cheetah biologist Adrienne Crosier. “These cubs are very significant for the future of the population, and each birth gives us an opportunity to learn more about cheetah biology and how females raise their young.” This litter is particularly important to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan (SSP) because this is the only litter of cheetahs born this year in a North American zoo.
Many of the newborns will not be on exhibit, but visitors can see clouded leopards, red pandas and a scimitar-horned oryx at the National Zoo in D.C.
August 12, 2011
“Portraiture Now: Asian American Portraits of Encounter“ seeks to explore what it means to be Asian in America through the works of CYJO, Hye Yeon Nam, Shizu Saldamando, Roger Shimomura, Satomi Shirai, Tam Tran and Zhang Chun Hong. The exhibit, a collaboration of the National Portrait Gallery (NPG) and the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program (APAP), opened today, August 12, at the Portrait Gallery. Konrad Ng, director of the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program, shared his insights on the show via e-mail.
What can the works in the show tell us about being Asian in America?
I think the works start conversations about what it means to be Asian in America rather than offer a definitive interpretation. Indeed, the show offers a cacophony of ways of being-in-the-world. If there is a common theme that unites the experience, I would say how they treat identity as a complex negotiation as opposed to a being given, that “I am definitively X.” The negotiation comes from how one can be rooted in a community, but not limited by it.
Is there a personal reason that you chose to explore the Asian American experience?
I appreciate good art and the show contains terrific work. The Portrait Gallery and my program the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program see the “Asian American experience” as a vehicle for showing how portraiture is a language and a story. These artists use the form to express their experience and by doing so, start conversations about what it means to be American, the dynamics of world cultures, and their intersection.
What is a “Portrait of Encounter”?
For me, a portrait of encounter conveys the forces at work in telling the story of identity, that is, how we work on finding balance during our negotiation of things like: what to wear, perceptions and self-perceptions, our sense of home, culture, or the expectations of heritage and gender.
The show contains a wide range of media and unique interpretations of portraiture. Which pieces are your favorites and what about them stand out to you?
It’s hard to pick one. As a scholar of cinema and digital media, I’m immediately drawn to Hye Yeon Nam’s work. I love the edginess of Saldamando’s works. CYJO’s photographs are engrossing. I love the messiness of Satomi Shirai’s photographs. The way that Tam Tran ties a sense of elasticity with her identity is great. The textures of Zhang Chun Hong’s work surprised me with its aggressiveness. Roger Shimomura finds a a productive balance between anger and playfulness.
The artists featured in the exhibit come from different Asian backgrounds as well as different geographic areas of the U.S. How important was representing the unique Asian cultures when putting together the show? How important was representing the unique U.S. regions?
The artists were selected from a general call for submissions. Together, the NPG and the APAP created a shortlist based on the caliber of work and how the work would fit in the larger experience of the exhibition. During the process, I wanted us to curate a set of encounters such that the journey for the viewer would be a transformation in their understanding of Asian America; not to arrive at a conclusion, but to start a conversation about that that means. I think we were able to do that.
“Portraiture Now: Asian American Portraits of Encounter” is open now through October 14, 2012 at the National Portrait Gallery.
August 2, 2011
With temperatures in the hundreds here in Washington, D.C., August is a fine time to seek out the glorious air conditioning of a museum. If you’re in town, take a moment to catch some of these great exhibits while you still can. The Around the Mall team alerts you to the upcoming final days of the following exhibitions. Hurry In.
Closing Sunday, August 7:
By the 1870s, Chinese blue and white porcelain had moved “from palace to parlor,” as one historian put it. The commodity, highly sought after by the Victorian middle classes, was a symbol of high culture and refined taste. Satirically labeled “Chinamania” by media of the time, the china craze was powered in large part the London-based American artist James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903), who became infatuated with blue and white Chinese porcelain in the early 1860s. Whistler’s work from this period is the subject of the Freer Gallery’s new exhibit “Chinamania,” which opened last summer and closes this Sunday. Don’t miss the collection of Whistler ink drawings and paintings inspired by Chinese porcelain.
At times provocative and at times moving, these works run the gamut from a blanket sewn out of thrift store fabrics to a photographic spoof of a Frida Kahlo self-portrait to a video installation projected on a screen of white turkey feathers. the museum’s acquisitions during the past several years. When the National Museum of the American Indian opened its doors on the National Mall in 2004, the museum had already begun to amass a rich collection of contemporary art by Native Americans. The museum’s exhibit, “Vantage Point,” a survey of 25 contemporary artists, opened last September and also closes this Sunday.
Closing Sunday, August 14:
You never knew Alexander Calder (1898-1976) in this way. The acclaimed painter and sculptor is best known for his avant-garde mobiles and stabiles and his colorful, geometric sculptures. Few of which are in this show. Instead, introduce yourself to an often overlooked side of Alexander Calder —that of the prolific portraitist. In March, the National Portrait Gallery’s exhibition of Calder’s drawings, sculptures and caricatures of celebrities like Josephine Baker, Jimmy Durante, Babe Ruth and Charles Lindbergh surprised and delighted visitors. You have less than two weeks to see it all; the show closes on Sunday, August 14.
Closing Sunday August 28:
“Fragments in Time and Space” at Hirshhorn
In a blink of the eye, this show is over before it can even get started. The Hirshhorn’s summer exhibition, on view for just two months, is a terrific presentation of works from the museum’s permanent collection. Thematically the curators have chosen pieces that focus on the interpretation of time and space since the beginning of modernism. Included are works from such artists as Thomas Eakins, Hamish Fulton, Douglas Gordon, Ed Ruscha and Hiroshi Sugimoto. Sunday, August 28, is the last day to see it.
*Image credits: 1) “Arthur Miller 1915-2005″ by Calder, @2010 Calder Foundation, NY/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY; 2) “Blanket” by James Lavadour (Walla Walla), Museum purchase with funds donated by Robert Jon Grover, 2007; 3) Incense burner, late 17th century, Qing dynasty; 4) “Five Past Eleven” by Ed Ruscha, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
March 8, 2011
It’s easy to be dismissive of minimalist artworks. Paintings of straight lines and geometric shapes can certainly frustrate viewers who prefer the aesthetics of more representational pieces. I heard the usual cynical comments while perusing the new exhibition, Blinky Palermo: Retrospective 1964-1977, now open at the Hirshhorn.
“Dude, what is this?” “Why is this even in a museum” “I have paint. I have a ruler. Can I get a exhibition?”
Blinky Palermo is a challenging show. The visitor is confronted with white walls that set off brightly colored geometric forms. There are few labels and benches to distract from the works. The show is divided into three seemingly biographical parts: the first section consists of objects from the artist’s time when he came of age as an artist in Germany, the second concerns photos and sketches of site-specific pieces and the third section is works from the artist’s time that he spent living in New York.
The artist, himself, is almost as illusive and complicated as his art. First, his name. Originally, he was Peter Schwarze. Adopted as an infant with his twin brother Michael, he became Peter Heisterkamp. But in the early 1960s, when he met Joseph Beuys and joined that great 20th-century artist’s class at the Dusseldorf Art Academy, Heisterkamp either was given the name or took the name of the Philadelphia mobster boss Blinky Palermo. (Frank “Blinky” Palermo was a 5-foot-tall, all-around bad guy–a Philadelphia mobster who was indicted, convicted and sentenced to federal prison, and who served 7 and a half years of a 15-year sentence for fight fixing and running an illegal numbers game throughout the 1940s and 1960s. )
Blinky, the artist, grew up in Germany. “But he was fascinated with America,” curator Evelyn Hankins told fellow ATM reporter Arcynta Ali Childs. And after a visit to New York in 1970 with Gerhard Richter, her returned in 1973 and set up a studio in Manhattan. And in that short four-year period before he died mysteriously–perhaps of a heart condition, while vacationing in the Maldives–Blinky Palermo titled many of his works with names of places in New York City–Wooster Street, Coney Island, 14th Street. The title of a 1976 work of 39 aluminum panels painted in red, yellow and black, “To the People of New York City” (above), obviously expresses his affection for his adopted home.
It’s hard to peg Blinky to any one type of art, abstract, or art period, post World War II. His influences are as international, Piet Mondrian and Marcel Broodthaers, as they are American, Mark Rothko and Barnet Newman.
As Hankins says us. “Everything [Palermo] does, you can see the handmade-ness of it.” In 2003, British critic Adrian Searle defined Palermo’s art as “restrained poetry.”
The work “Schmettling II (Butterfly II),” is a fascinating three dimensional painting and relief sculpture that, alas, loses its magic in any photo. (So go see the show!) The ‘body’ of the ‘butterfly’ is made of a nonstandard plank of wood, painted black on its front face and red on its sides. The resulting effect is that of an ever-changing piece that twists and reveals vibrant reds as the viewer moves around it.
“Mirror Object” may appear flat black and white, but is actually made of two three-dimensional triangles, one of soft black and one of reflective metal. The reflectiveness of the piece is surprising. First appearing white, due to the gallery walls, but then reflecting a plethora of color from the works displayed on the other walls.
Many of Palermo’s pieces invite exploration from various angles and distances. How else could one discover that “Untitled,” from 1967, is actually oil paint on linen stretched over a found chalkboard? The works may largely consist of painted geometry, but the unconventional materials and slight off-ness of the pieces give a quirky character to the show and illuminates the character of the painter.
In that regard, the show shares similarities with the Hirshhorn’s retrospective last summer of another artist taken before his time, “Yves Klein.“ Coincidentally, both artists died at 34 just 15 years apart.
“[Palermo]’s considered to be an artist’s artist,” says Hankins, “because he’s really interested in kind of the expressive possibilities and limitations of painting.”
“His was an art with a calm, clear voice,” wrote Searle, “though it often said quite complicated things.”
This is the first American retrospective of Palermo’s work and many of these pieces are borrowed from European collections that have never been seen in the United States. Explore the colorful expressions of Blinky now through May 15, 2011.