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New York Times Review ART; 12 KOREAN ARTISTS SHOW AT THORPE
ART; 12 KOREAN ARTISTS SHOW AT THORPE

By VIVIEN RAYNOR
Published: February 16, 1986
TO New Yorkers, the influx of Korean immigrants seems recent. But, in fact, it dates to before the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895, when Korea was under Chinese control, though did not begin in earnest until Japan gained control of the country after its 1904-1905 war with Russia.

At first, the immigrants were mainly agricultural laborers, settling in Hawaii and the western states. But since the mid-1960's, roughly half have been skilled workers and professionals as intent on getting an American education for their children and furthering their own as improving their economic lot. Hence, the Korean community today is known for its scientists, teachers and intellectuals - not to mention publications such as the well-written quarterly put out by its cultural service - as well as for its ubiquitous greengrocer stores.

The 12 artists now showing at the Thorpe Intermedia Gallery in Sparkill (Route 340 in Rockland County) belong to this recent influx. Their ages ranging from the early 30's to the early 50's, most were born in Korea and obtained at least their bachelor's degrees there.

Given the American influence in South Korea, it is likely that some of the Western inflections on their work were acquired before arriving in this country. And although no corner of the art world is safe from Western influence, Kyu-Nam Han, the show's guest curator and one of the exhibitors, has evidently taken pains to choose artists who clearly reflect it.

But as usually happens in ethnic art exhibitions, the artists' backgrounds and sources are not discussed, so viewers are left to figure out for themselves how much of the imagery comes from within, how much is the result of calculated cross-pollination.

Tough enough when the mixture is of two Western cultures, the task becomes almost impossible when it is of West and East. To make matters more complex, Korea has been obscured by China and Japan - unfairly so, considering its ancient traditions of metalwork and celadon pottery and its invention of moveable type.

Owing much to China, Korea nevertheless developed very differently, not only because of its relatively small size but also because it became a nation under a single administration in 668 A.D., remaining so until 1945. More important from the cultural standpoint is that South Korea embraced the West to the extent that today, nearly one-quarter of its roughly 38 million inhabitants are Christian.

Knowing all this doesn't exactly explain the duality of the Sparkill show but it provides the viewer with a starting point. The most obviously Oriental of the artists is Boon-Ja Choi, who, working in either black ink or bright acrylic colors with gold, produces images that are both abstractions composed of a myriad tiny, excruciatingly neat strokes and landscapes - a compromise that winds up looking like textile design.

Aside from the huge disk of black paper inscribed like a record with a spiraling graphite line, Sung-Ho Choi's sculpture reflects an Oriental concern for materials, particularly the plank that is blackened with graphite and embossed with a ''bark'' of slate fragments shaped like shark's teeth.

In-Kie Wang smudges fingers dipped in black ink or gray acrylic paint onto wide sheets of paper, producing notations about landscape. One of these is accompanied by the word ''willow'' cut out of the paper in the stencil face that Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg made their own.

Mi-Aie Moon's clouds and fields of color seem entirely Western in their Abstract Expressionist technique, except for an occasional brushstroke that is more calligraphic than automatist.

Byoung-Yong Lee, on the other hand, combines hard-edged geometry with passages of gestural paint that bring Jim Dine to mind. At the bottom of this descending scale of Orientalism are the heavily textured abstractions of Woong-Kim - skillful but noncommittal blends of organic and geometric shapes.

Obsessiveness is a noticeable trait, as in Mr. Han's all-over patterns that - composed of small rounded shapes arranged in rows - bring the work of the late Kim Whanki to mind. Another example is Il Lee's diptych involving black tangles on a brightly impastoed background. Automatist as this appears, it is the result of a laborious process that begins with the artist blackening the canvas and blocking out sections of it with tape on which he scribbles the black masses. Cutting away the tape between the lines, the artist then applies his multicolored impasto, removes the remainder of the tape to disclose the original black priming, a shape whose contours are defined by the colors surrounding it.

The nearest thing to Neo-Expressionism is the large oil of black rocks piled up in a landscape the color of blood, by Tchah-Sup Kim. Also by this artist is the long canvas that has a smoothly painted, Hamlet-like figure cradling a skull separated from an expressionistic approximation of Masaccio's ''Expulsion'' (from the Garden of Eden) by a field of green.

Yong-Jin Han's well-carved, sandwich-like arrangements of stone slabs seem like elements of ancient Korean architecture while also implying some inspiration from Isamu Noguchi.

A sculptor who sometimes shows an affinity to the early Giacometti, John Pai is at his best in the steel composition where rods of various lengths poke like trees through a ground that's an undulating sheet.

The most conceptual of the sculptors is Choong-Sup Lim, who cuts flat geometric shapes out of wood, paints them white and gray and combines them with tapering ladderlike forms into wall and floor arrangements.

A curator of Oriental art at the Metropolitan Museum once explained to the reviewer that, though Abstract Expressionist gestures such as Franz Kline's look like Eastern calligraphy, they are visual gibberish to their Oriental beholders because they express nothing but themselves.

Mr Han, on the other hand, contends in his catalogue introduction that because Western art has moved away from objective illusionism, the line dividing it from Eastern art is disappearing. Perhaps it has gone underground, for although the quality of this show is impeccable, its spirit is somehow uneasy. (Through March 9.)

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