Rachel Whiteread, Ghost (1990); Do Ho Suh, Seoul Home (1999)
If I was a better tour guide, I would have researched all the shows I wanted to take the Brins to weeks in advance, but as it is I'm not a tour guide, I'm a sculptor. Rather than find out facts I could list I spent my time thinking about how I could convey the ways I look at art. And part of what I hoped to communicate to David was the very different ways sculpture and literature are 'read.'
One of Suh's isometric drawings on display at Lehmann Maupin, showed a series of rooms impossibly linked together in a stack. I am guessing they are all rooms from places Suh has lived over the years. Although forever separated by geography and time, each room appeared to have proximity to a stairwell as a common trait. In Suh's mind those stairwells were enough to linked them into a single paradoxical tower. Looking at art is a lot like that. Unlike my experience of literature - where an author reveals information to the reader as a string of words - looking at objects is an non-linear experience. There are no narrative threads, no causes, effect, beginnings or endings; everything happens at once and has to be decoded in spiraling towers of head scratching.
Bruce Nauman, A Cast of the Space Under My Chair (1968); Do Ho Suh, Fallen Star 1/5 (2008)
Suh's show was dominated by an enormous 1:5 scale doll house-like model of a traditional Korean home that has crash landed and lodged itself into the corner of a much larger and boxier town house. Trailing from the Korean home was a silk doppelgänger: a deflated 1:5 scale of his Seoul Home, repurposed as a collapsed parachute strewn across the gallery floor as if the model of Suh's childhood home had, like Dorthy's childhood home, only just fallen out of the sky and crashed on top of the artist's first adult adventure: art school.
The only prior knowledge I had about the piece, called Fallen Star, was that the larger of the two "dream homes" was a recreation of an actual building in Providence RI. I told the Brins I thought Suh might have gone to RISD; turns out it was a good guess (he did his undergraduate work there). Before we went too far piecing together whatever else I could remember with what we could see in the rooms, I also wanted to explain associations the work made to other art. I did my best to explain to the Brins how the colliding doll houses related back to the abstract materiality of the Richard Serras we had just seen. I did so by stacking art like Suh stacked stairwells.
Rachel Whiteread, Untitled (2001); Do Ho Suh, Staircase (2003)
I told the sort of stories that are told art students. I explained that 20 years before Suh had made a tent of his family home he could pack in a suitcase, the British sculptor Rachel Whiteread had transforming a small room in a victorian townhouse into a monumental cube by casting it in chalky white plaster. Whiteread's piece, called Ghost, is clearly echoed by the even more spectral Seoul House - and both, meanwhile, echoe an infamous morbid 1962 cube titled Die by the Modernist architect Tony Smith. Die set the terms for the artwork that would come to be known as Minimalism.
In 1966 Art Forum Magazine published a series of influential essays on Minimalist art by the sculptor Robert Morris called Notes on Sculpture. Morris explained that, “the better work takes relationship out of the work and makes them a function of space, light and the viewer’s field of vision.” Morris quoted a short Q&A with Smith on the subject of Die:
Tony Smith, Die (1962): Richard Serra, House of Cards (1969)Q: Why didn't you make it larger so that it would loom over the observer?A: I was not making a monument
Q: Then why didn't you make it smaller so that the observer could see over the top?
A: I was not making an object
The blackness sealed state, and human scale of Smith's cube helped reinforce this reading of the title, which - considering that the command is directed at the viewer - renders the work a gruesome gesture: a bleak crypt presented to the viewer with succinct instructions to perish. "Six feet has a suggestion of being cooked. Six-foot box. Six-foot under," wrote Smith, who related Die also to a passage by Herodotus about a chapel found in the enclosure of a temple: a "most wonderful thing... made of a single stone, the length and height of which were the same, each wall being forty cubits square, and the whole a single block!" - a description of a rather mausoleum-like structure.