CHATTANOOGA, Tennessee — Jiha Moon was one of several artists the critic John Yau would like to have seen at the Whitney Biennial this year and didn’t. She was curated, instead, by Nandini Makrandi, at the Hunter Museum of American Art in Chattanooga. On view now is the third regional invitational the museum has hosted to feature significant works being made in its proximity. The artists are Jan Chanoweth, Alicia Henry, Phillip Andrew Lewis, Jiha Moon, Jeffrey Morton, Greg Pond, Martha Whittington, and Jered Sprecher.
Questions of cultural appropriation abound in Jiha Moon’s “Foreign Love Too,” her second solo exhibition at Ryan Lee Gallery (formerly Mary Ryan Gallery) in New York. In paintings, works on paper and ceramics, pop culture, art historical references and icons from the East and West collide, often fusing into hybrid symbols. These visual signifiers become inextricably linked, indicating that when cultures meet, rather than clashing, they meld, raising complicated issues of complicity.
“If someone threatens you and you strike a tae kwon do pose, even if you don’t know tae kwon do, they’ll think you do because you’re Asian,” says Jiha Moon. “My work does a similar thing.”
Like many artists who create work outside their native cultures, the 40-year-old Korean-born artist incorporates elements of her original and adopted homes in complex, multivalent works rich with symbolism and intrigue. Asian motifs — peonies, fiery dragon heads and calligraphy — share space with piñatas, the Starbucks mermaid, the Tiger Balm tiger and Martha Stewart scrapbooking stickers. Birds play a big role as well, from Angry Birds, lovebirds and the “Hecho en Mexico” Aztec eagle to Audubon-worthy specimens. Moon layers materials and metaphors in order to upend stereotypes and cultural assumptions, mixing East and West, high and low, fact and fiction.
Atlanta–based painter Jiha Moon nabbed a $25,000 grant from the Joan Mitchell Foundation—bringing a big win home for the District.
Moon doesn't live in D.C., but her work appears at Curator's Office, and her roots in the city and community run deep. In 2005, she won the $10,000 Trawick Prize, an annual award for artists in the Washington area, and garnered rave reviews for "Symbioland," a solo show that opened at Curator's just days after the award ceremony. (Here are still more.)
Her fourth solo show at Curator's Office will take place in 2012. In the meantime, Curator's Office director Andrea Pollan will be accompanying Moon to Seoul for a solo exhibition at Arario Gallery, for which Pollan has written the catalog text.
So the District still claims Moon as a favorite daughter. Elsewhere, excellent examples of her work—which span media as well as influences—have appeared at Philadelphia's Fabric Workshop and Museum and New York's Drawing Center, among national and international galleries and institutions.
"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.
Contemporary visual culture is the ultimate melting pot. It lumps together an assortment of images, slogans, brands and ideas that we unwittingly absorb until the blurred line between image and reality becomes the definition, not the regulator, of American identity. South Korean-born, Atlanta-based artist Jiha Moon navigates this chaotic system with a sophistication and familiarity that comes from a life spent straddling worlds. In her art it is possible to see the mirror image of everyday American life, crowded with ideas that swarm against each other with equal parts opposition and harmony.