Something like being inside. This is what You-Ni Chae’s recent show, Motif Painting, at 65 Grand feels like…
Two paintings conjure images of bright internal organs, another uses a subtle gesture of architectural perspective to imply a room, and one resembles a brick wall, putting us in proximity to some delineated space we cannot see. One of the smallest works, Whistler, is clearly a reference to his nocturnes, and through thin layers of dark hues, we are enveloped in night sky. These paintings are interiors, and their generosity lies in their scale. They are modest in size, small even, the largest barely over two feet in width and the smallest ones around 11 by 13 inches. They know better than to be large and looming, they know not to try to eclipse our periphery and contain us. Instead, the inside spaces are turned inside out, spilling bits of their contents out into the world around them.
The radiant fuchsias and pale pinks of Drum Talking feels like some kind of carved out corporeal space, while the loosely stretched canvas acts as a skin, leaving an imprint of the physical support under the weight of You-Ni’s hand. It begins to feel as though it could be a direct impression of the body, but it is only an index so far as it is evidence of the hand over time. In Joey, contrasting planes of blue and green are placed on either side of an angled tan line, suggesting a wall meeting the ceiling, yet the shapes in the immediate foreground block us from the rest of the space. Small bits of textured, puckered paint sit on the surface of these shapes and add to the feeling that the foreground is a solid surface. The contents have been pushed forward to us, but one can’t help but feel as though there might be more hidden behind these opaque layers of paint. Throughout the entire show, the works utilize both opaque, and thin, transparent layers of paint, and these juxtapositions convey the sense that some things remain hidden, keeping us engaged and anticipating.
There is nothing extraordinary about the way the exhibition is set up; in fact, it mimics the format one encounters at a museum, complete with a bench placed in the center of the room. However, a book on the subject of Korean Buncheong ceramics sits on the bench, and invites viewers to sit and flip through its pages. Doing so confirms the affect of interiority that resonates from the paintings. Some of these ceramic vessels are characterized by a narrow, short opening for a body that opens long and wide, so that the ratio between the opening and the vast interior is so great that what pours out or goes in must happen slowly over time. In a similar way, this is how You-Ni’s paintings maintain their perplexity, they require us to stare into the dark waiting for our eyes to adjust, and while some things may be revealed, ultimately and intoxicatingly, we are held at a distance.
When you spend enough time investigating and/or excavating something, it’s not unusual to end up emptying everything out or compacting the contents so much that we’re left with something that feels flat, one-dimensional. In the case of these works however, what she has spilled out into our world leads us back to those vague interiors, and we are simply left hovering.
You-Ni Chae: Motif Painting ran from March 1- 30 at 65 Grand, 1369 W Grand Avenue.