Nau mai, haere mai, welcome to eyeCONTACT, a forum built to encourage art reviews and critical discussion about the visual culture of Aotearoa New Zealand. I'm John Hurrell its editor, a New Zealand writer, artist and curator. While Creative New Zealand and other supporters are generously paying me and other contributors to review exhibitions over the following year, all expressed opinions are entirely our own.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Squishy and Squelchy

Seung Yul Oh: Daradaradarada
Starkwhite, Auckland
1 February - 1 March 2008

Seung Yul Oh’s last show at Starkwhite was a stimulating mixture of painting, sculpture, and installation and this one is the same but less packed – and now with video. Again he uses the central columns in Starkwhite’s large downstairs space to good effect. This time instead of wrapping a band of polythene around the two of them and putting a fan inside he has imagined they are limestone outcrops in an underground cave, and turned them into stalactites or whopper candles. He has covered them with descending dribbles of pale yellow wax. And covered the windows with wax, diffusing the light from the street.

The real stars of this show though are his paintings. Oh is a consummate draughtsperson who knows how to entertain his audience and create giggles. Maybe he overdoes it. Some of the varied group of paintings in the large space seem as if he has got tired and changed his mind: the early ‘abstract’ stages of underpainting are left without the fine lined ‘hairy’ drawing he uses to create contours. Others are large horizontal rectangles that look like double-page spreads in magazines or comics. They show lumpy asteroids covered top and underneath with vegetation-coated rocky outcrops and lots of cute little wiggling goldfish, winking woodpeckers and popping bubbles.

His best paintings though are smaller, without wildlife, and intestinal. They play off the edges of vertical stretchers so that lines and circles of translucent viscera accentuate the painting shape. He seems to be taking the mickey out of Clement Greenberg who being anti –illusionist, emphasised maintaining the stretcher shape. The squirming, crawling shapes are subtly matched with tonally related colours that bring out the beautifully squishy gut forms. Oddly these gems are in the Starkwhite office, on the right, behind John McCormack’s desk. These works are the show’s highlights so don’t miss them.

The other exhibits up to a point are interesting too, like the plasma screens of rice, lollies and sand going backwards and forwards in and out of a funnel, or the big lightbox illuminating vinyl shapes, or the marble-like floor sculptures, but you soon tire of them. The best of the paintings however will hold your attention a long time. They’re brilliant.

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