Jae Ko: Recent Sculpture

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Editorial Review

Exhibit adds up to a thrill
By Michael O'Sullivan
Friday, March 30, 2012

There's an inherent tension in Jae Ko's sculpture, on view at the Marsha Mateyka Gallery in a handsome installation of nine new pieces, including three unusually large works.

The most obvious tension is physical. Made from fat, ropelike coils of the artist's signature adding-machine tape that she manipulates and twists like taffy -- see "The Story Behind the Work" -- Ko's art has the springy energy of a snake about to strike. It's pure potential, like a muscle that has contracted in anticipation of throwing a punch.

The impact is not just visual; it's visceral.

There's another tension, too. Ko's latest works straddle a line between the biomorphic and the machine-made. From some angles, they don't look made so much as grown.

Inspired by the gnarled trunks of bristlecone pines -- which the artist encountered on a trip to California and which are said to be the oldest organisms on the planet, living thousands of years -- they seem shaped by powerful, unseen forces. But they also resemble giant, misshapen augers, rejects from some Bunyanesque tool-and-die plant.

One serpentine floor piece is 13 feet long. Two wall pieces -- spiraling in thick ringlets -- stretch more than six feet.

For this show, Ko has restricted her palette. Roughly half of the works are black, which underscores their cold, industrial feel. The others are covered in a bright, lipstick-red pigment, bringing them to sinuous, sensuous life.

The tension between opposites lends visual interest to Ko's work, which has for several years been among the area's most formally elegant sculpture.

Once known for flat, wall-mounted pieces that were all about the quiet contemplation of surface, a la Anish Kapoor, the artist's latest sculptures are a leap forward. They seem to hold an implicit threat.

That makes them ever so slightly dangerous, but in a way that thrills more than chills.

The story behind the work
By Michael O'Sullivan
Friday, March 30, 2012

Jae Ko's chosen medium is rolled paper, in massive quantities.

Although she sometimes works with loose rolls of brown kraft paper -- as in her recent installation at the Phillips Collection -- Ko more typically uses adding-machine tape, which she painstakingly removes from the small spools it comes on and rerolls into tight, heavy coils, using a modified potter's wheel.

Ko then wrestles and wrenches the coils out of shape, twisting and pulling them into strange forms (in the case of her latest work, spirals). Once the sculpture looks right, she holds it in place with strong clamps, applying a mixture of wood glue and pigment that fixes it permanently. (Ko uses Japanese sumi ink for the black pigment, calligraphy ink for the red.) The dried pieces are then sanded to a matte, woodlike finish.

The intensive process is a kind of strenuous, back-and-forth dance -- between where Ko wants the paper to go and where it, by virtue of its own energy, wants to stay.