News Column

Korean artist opens first solo U.S. museum exhibit

May 2, 2014

By Nathan Payne, The Record-Eagle, Traverse City, Mich.

May 02--TRAVERSE CITY -- Sweat dripped from Sueng Mo Park's brow as he flung the last wraps of foam padding from the corner of his sculpture and began to inspect its serpentine surface.

Five men, including Park, spent part of Wednesday afternoon heaving, tugging and grunting to free the piano-shaped coil of polished aluminum wire from its shipping crate.

"This is the less glamorous part of the job," said Eugene Jenneman, Dennos Museum Executive Director, wiping grayish aluminum stains from his hands. "Nobody has seen anything like this in Michigan."

The frame survived its cross-Pacific trip and a short truck trip from Chicago. It's a good thing, too. Park's first three renditions of the sculpture sold to museums and collectors some time ago. The fourth, an artist's proof, took more than two months of labor to complete, he said.

Park created the monument to music and art by bending, shaping and gluing thick strands of aluminum spaghetti onto a fiberglass frame. He then polished the round wire until half its thickness fell away and left a flat surface of metallic flows, accentuated by dark valleys.

The 45-year-old artist also pioneered a technique for creating photo-realistic negatives from snipped, clipped and shaped stainless-steel mesh. The multi-layered portraits and landscapes appear -- when viewed from the wrong angle or too close -- to be little more than twisted, jagged wires and mesh. A step back and the images begin to appear. Two steps and they become clearer. Three and the illusion of depth flows from them. Park calls the technique MAYA. The technique emerged four or five years ago while he was experimenting, Park said.

Unpacking Park's seven sculptures was the culmination of months of work for both the artist and museum staff. It also moved Park one step closer to opening his first solo museum show in the U.S.

He is the second Korean artist to make his U.S. museum debut at the Dennos, Jenneman said.

Park, a South Korean artist, creates his works in studios in Seoul, South Korea, Brooklyn, N.Y., and Berlin. He shows work in private galleries and museums across the globe. He has sold his works to some of the world's most recognizable collections. But he hasn't -- until Saturday -- launched a solo exhibit in an American museum, despite his work's popularity.

The exhibit, which opens Saturday night with a special reception at the Dennos Museum and continues through Sept. 7, kicks off a series of three stops including one at the Marshall Fredericks Sculpture Museum in Saginaw and another at the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts.

Park says he created the fourth rendition of the wire-wrapped piano when he heard Jenneman arranged for his exhibit launch party to pair with a performance by Bob James, a jazz pianist who makes his home in Traverse City.

Park is a fan of James who is well known in Asia where he has developed a devoted following in recent years. James has played throughout the Pacific Rim, including shows in South Korea, where Park first watched him perform.

The performance is special to James for several reasons.

"There's a certain very special feeling that the Traverse City audience always has," James said. "They're very open and show their enthusiasm when you're up on stage."

James doesn't often play shows close enough for his friends and family to attend. He also rarely gets a chance to sit and play the Steinway grand piano he placed on loan to the Milliken Auditorium years ago.

James played about 100 concerts last year -- yet only one or two of these were in Traverse City. Saturday night he will play not only to a hometown crowd, but also to Park, one of his many South Korean fans.

"I've been such a believer in bringing the east and west together," he said.

Park's first U.S. museum exhibition, including a 16-foot-wide MAYA landscape, will be on display at the Dennos Museum, 1410 College Dr., until Sept. 7.

Tickets to Saturday's 8 p.m. exhibition launch and Bob James' concert cost $35 in advance, $40 at the door and $30 for museum members.

The museum is open Monday to Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday until 8 p.m. and Sundays 1-5 p.m. Admission is $6 for adults, $4 for children and free to museum members. For more information, go to or call 231-995-1055.


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Source: Record-Eagle, The (Traverse City, MI)

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