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Art Review: Ideas, images flow uninterrupted in Jiha Moon's 'Day for Night' - Go Memphis, September 2011

by Fredric Koeppel, September 15, 2011

"Less is more," blah blah blah, but for some artists even "more and more" is not enough. Jiha Moon's exhibition "Day for Night," at Rhodes College's Clough-Hanson Gallery through Oct. 14, shows an astonishing sense of controlled chaos in the 13 pieces that seem, despite an inherent trait of delicacy and fragility, about to burst from the bounds of their edges. The paradox -- delicacy and furious energy, airy patterns and elaborate mess -- permeates this work that manages to be delightful and perplexing without breaking apart at the seams.

Moon is a Korean-American who lives in Atlanta; she has M.A. and M.F.A. degrees from the University of Iowa. As is the case with many artists of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, for Moon there exists no barrier between High and Low art, between the Fine and the Popular. So these pieces, mainly ink and acrylic on hanji, a traditional Korean paper made from the inner bark of the paper mulberry tree, see the addition of stickers, smiley and kitty faces, motifs from old video games, embroidered patches, fortune cookie papers, swathes of pigment the color and consistency of toothpaste.

You don't just walk past these works noting their complexity; you are compelled to spend time with each, puzzling out the layers, marveling at the baroque layering of themes, images, ideas and traditions.

Particularly intriguing is the way in which Moon juxtaposes the motifs of traditional Asian painting -- elongated mountains, sinuous dragons, crab-like chrysanthemums, fretted clouds, classical calligraphy -- with the media culture and digital references she finds so readily at hand. "Yong! Yong! Yong!" for example features beautiful, intricate patterning in cool colors around the perimeter while the interior of the piece seethes with activity, verging on abstraction, that includes clouds of tiny shiny smiley face stickers and writhing dragon tails.

In "Hideout," Moon offers passages of exquisite brushwork and dreamy washes of thinned acrylic worthy of a master as she simultaneously presents infantile "kitty" faces, smiley faces, luxuriant foliage and flowers and five fortune cookie fortunes. Are these real, or did the artist create them? One would be disconcerted to crack open a fortune cookie and read on the little strip of paper such lines as "Just tell them you are from the Moon" or "You will be forced to be bi-lingual."

It would be shortsighted to dismiss Moon's work as disheveled or muddled, as infantile and hybrid, though certainly the last two adjectives apply in the best sense. The force that obtains, actually, is the power of worldwide media in which the uninterrupted flow of information and images mixes, willy-nilly, all levels and corners of all cultures and concerns, all philosophies and sensibilities.

Want abstraction? Here it is. Want traditional Korean calligraphy and classical themes? Check. Toss in attributes of television kids shows, anime, video games and corporate logos? You got 'em. How about a hairline balance between fastidious craft and a sort of pigment galore attitude? No problem. A proclivity, as in the show's most impressive painting, "The Winds," toward a profound and exciting expression of archetypal nature myth? All you had to do was ask.

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    Clough-Hanson Gallery, Rhodes College, Memphis September 9- October 14, 2011 Download a PDF of the show brochure Day for Night includes thirteen recent paintings by Korean-Americanartist Jiha Moon. These bold paintings present dreamy landscapes that…

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