Korean Exhibition Comes to the Smithsonian American Art Museum

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by Yegene Lee
Korean artist Suh Do Ho reproduces the staircase from his New York apartment. [Image: Karin Silitonga]

In March, South Korean artist Do Ho Suh began exhibiting his “Hub” sculptures at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC. The exhibition, titled “Almost Home,” displays a series of sculptures that utilize stainless steel poles and a lightweight fabric similar to the material of traditional Korean summer clothing. The interactive sculptures, which recreate Suh’s living spaces in New York, Berlin, and Seoul, connect to one another so that a viewer can walk through Suh’s Seoul apartment hallway to the staircase from his New York building. Suh’s work stems from his feelings as an outsider and his desire to create memories and try to bring them with him as “suitcase homes.” Suh has lived abroad since leaving South Korea at the age of 29 in 1991, and now divides his time between London, New York, and Seoul.

Although this is Suh’s first major exhibition on the east coast, Suh is a significant figure among contemporary Korean artists, and his work has garnered praise from the international art community. Before coming to the east coast, Suh exhibited his works - including the “Hub” sculptures - at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, Seattle Art Museum, the Contemporary Austin, and Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego.

Washington has a long history of displaying Korean art and artifacts in its many museums. In 1957, the National Gallery of Art hosted the exhibit “Masterpieces of Korean Art”, which displayed objects dated from 200 B.C. to about 1900. A joint Korean and American committee selected these items to represent a cross-section of Korean history and art. More recently, the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History hosted a 10-year long exhibition of Korean art and artifacts that spanned from more historical pieces to contemporary works. The exhibition closed in June of 2017.

While contemporary South Korean artists, from Hong Seok Goh in Baltimore to artists of the Dansaekhwa movement in New York City, have also exhibited their art on the east coast, Suh’s exhibition provides another opportunity for American art-lovers in the DC area to immerse themselves in the intensely personal work of a highly-regarded South Korean artist.