Yungtae Won: Something, Nothing, Differential
Elga Wimmer PCC, NYC
Oct. 21–27, 2019
Elga Wimmer PCC presents "Yungtae Won: Something, Nothing, Differential" curated by Paris Koh, is an ambitious thought-provoking series of conceptually based works executed in oil and in lenticular acrylic, a variation of the traditional hologram format. The artist expounds a narrative that probes philosophical, scientific and religious questions that find their focus in the lush, ripe red properties of an apple that functions as the central protagonist of the artist's inquiry. At first glimpse, the conceptual show appears to accentuate the visual luster and sensual appeal of a piece of fresh fruit, but on deeper contemplation the titles, "Adam's Apple/Newton's Apple," awaken the realization that the works delve far deeper than superficial appearances indicate. The ripeness of the singular fruit with its unabashed saturated red hue calls to viewer consciousness a visceral recognition of the indomitable life-force signified by the correlation of blood with the color red. The apple acts as the human equivalent in the show’s equation, as it recalls Newton's Law of Gravity as well as the apple plucked illicitly from the Tree of Knowledge in response to the devil’s temptation of Eve in the Biblical story of Garden of Eden. The artist's queries about reality parallel those of René Magritte, in his iconic visual/text statement "This is not a pipe" indicating that the painted picture of a pipe is only a surface representation, not to be confused with the genuine object. Won paints an apple from a photograph of an apple with the same doubt in mind: "Which is the authentic apple?" Obviously, the answer is "neither," but he feels the question must be raised.
The use of the apple as the focus of the show conjures sumptuous art historical still life images that display the sensuous abundance of fruit, produce and game to nourish bodies and spirits alike, in a micro and macro scientific art method that mirrors the "invisible and ultimate" concepts driving Buddhist beliefs. In Buddhism, the ultimate goal is to become empty of the "self." Similarly, the scientific lens of macro imagery becomes so vast that no traces of specific qualities or characteristics remain detectable. The field of vision becomes empty. The artist cleverly depicts this state in the "Apple differential I," "Something/Nothing 2," "Apple differential 3" and "Something/Nothing VI," presented in a refreshing curatorial sequence of panels. The micro viewpoint is sensitively illustrated in "Apple differential 2."
In Buddhism, there is no core "self" as it exists in Christianity. The self is deemed to be empty, subject to changing character, depending on who or what the individual is relating to. In these works, Won researches the shifts in essence to be found with various facets of the subject on view. In "Apple differential 2" (pigment and acrylic on canvas, 60 x 72.7" 2019), the apple skin is seen through a microscopic vision to reveal the tiny white dots that are spewed across the surface of the fruit. In a less intense view, in a five-panel pigment and acrylic on canvas work, the fruit's surface appears to have natural ridges, within changes of hue. The work, "Adam's Apple/Newton's Apple I," is intended to be an exact replica of a photographic piece but as there is no way to create a completely precise reproduction, the question "which is the 'real' apple" arises without an easy answer. The two apple works created with lenticular acrylic, to create a kind of hologram, change as one views them by walking from side to side, to shift from shades of gray to tones of bright red; these changes indicate what seem to be variations in ambient light that arises from the inner depths of the pictures of fruit, giving rise to mysterious, inexplicable diffused gray tones that hint at the process of aging in the natural course of time. In the piece entitled "Adam's Apple/Newton's Apple III," 2019, the artist paints the apple from a frontal view at the top to disclose an apparent crevice from which the stem arises, which provides a surprising viewpoint; it suggests that the apple moves toward the viewer as if propelling forward like a thrown ball. In the "Homage to Rectangles I and II," joined with the "Something/Nothing I," the artist investigates the rectangle in a series of views that pay homage to Joseph Albers's famous squares, but seen in deep bright with varying degrees of texture to subtly delineate the rectangle.
The artist's use of a single red apple as the key subject of his philosophical and religious probes is at first disconcertingly suggestive of a 17th century Dutch still life gone slightly awry. In contemporary art the Still Life genre has fallen quite far from favor, to the extent that it is rarely if ever on view. But Won's use of the apple as an example that illuminates through imagery the principal tenets of the Buddhist faith is revealing and enlightening. The ingenious method he uses to examine science and religion through the creative process of image making is a procedure that exudes a sense of purity and wonder that is not usual despite or because of the fact that almost everything has previously been investigated and nailed down. Won raises the question of "which item is the real and which is the replica," or is the apple fundamentally all and none of the views he has taken.
The show is playful yet serious; at first glance the large ultra-red fruit is a bit dominant, yet one becomes accustomed to following the artist's deliberate illustrative permutations as he expounds his ideas via the size and surface of the apple. The apple tree in ancient religion was considered a symbol of knowledge; in Christian art it is a source of redemption for humankind in combatting the evil of original sin associated with the devil's temptation of Eve leading to the expulsion from paradise (1000 Symbols, p. 255, Rowena and Rupert Shepherd). The color red is linked with fire and blood by Australian Aborigines and the Navaho. In Japan and Korea, it is connected to the sun (p.343). Fire keeps us warm but if fire goes out of control it becomes destructive. In ancient times blood was the equivalent for life-force (p.638, "The Book of Symbols," Taschen). These associations are embedded in our unconscious minds only to stir when we reconnect with familiar sources and meanings.
In the exhibition, Won considers the deep-rooted conflict in the West between science and religion, where science is to debunk traditional views of the "self" embodied in the Christian faith, the opposite to the nothingness that is considered the peak achievement in Buddhist religious belief. The ideas presented in "Something, Nothing Differential" are not unfamiliar, yet the freshness and liveliness of the depictions bring renewed force to questions brought forth with the vigor to engage a new generation of thinking artists.