A fresh view of Asian art

Exhibit: Professor's perseverance in piecing together a showing of works in Ellicott City pays off.

October 11, 2001|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

When Ock-Kyung Lee began recruiting artists for an exhibit of contemporary Asian art, she had a hard time convincing some of them that a gallery in Ellicott City was a happening art spot.

The artists were used to bigger scenes, such as galleries in New York, or at least Baltimore. But Lee was relentless, and once the artists saw the gallery - in the 40-year-old former Rockland Elementary School building - and the company they were in, they were impressed.

"I never take no for an answer - I pursued and pursued," said Lee, a professor emeritus at Towson University.

"By the end, they were more than ready, and they were willing to give me more," she said.

Nearly 50 pieces of by nine nationally and internationally recognized artists who live in the mid-Atlantic region are on display in the Howard County Center for the Arts exhibit "Shared Spirits and Sensibilities: Contemporary Asian Artists."

The exhibit, which opened Monday and runs through Nov. 9, shows an array of diverse artwork, including wood sculptures, paintings and pencil drawings. It is the first to be displayed in the center's newly renovated galleries.

Christina Manucy, the center's program coordinator, said the center wanted to appeal to the booming number of Asian residents - the county's Asian population has more than doubled since 1990, from 8,098 to 19,124.

"We knew the population around the center is increasingly Asian, and we felt it would be important to react to that," she said.

As the exhibit's curator, Lee last year started enlisting artists who illustrate Asian heritage in cutting-edge styles instead of the traditional format. She wanted to show the public a different side of Asian culture.

"We know the Korean grocers and the Chinese restaurants, but not many are aware of the culture's expressions," she said. "I also wanted to teach some of the aspiring Asian artists to see what they can achieve."

This updated approach to art is shown in Komelia Okim's gold-inlaid jewelry pieces that are more stunning than the older Korean metal works, Lee said. The artist's sense of self is also shown in the small sterling silver figurines designed with long flying hair and in a set of silver teapots with curly hair strands on the tops.

Yuriko Yamaguchi's individual wood carvings in the Metamorphosis series are hung on the gallery wall from top to bottom, aligned like a haiku poem, Lee said. The somewhat abstract pieces look like excavated objects that resemble human organs, food or tools.

"I relate this work closest to [the terrorist attacks on] Sept. 11 - the ruins, the perishable nature," Lee said.

In Won Sook Kim's painting Of All Trees, a pair of hands are wrapped around a tree trunk while leaves are falling. Lee calls Kim's works narrative paintings because many stories can be interpreted in them.

"You can think she's hugging the lover that's not there - you can read into it on many levels," Lee said, describing Kim's painting. "That's why she's so poetic."

The largest and perhaps most eye-catching piece in the exhibit is the painting Watch/Self by B.G. Muhn. It shows a man sitting with his head in his hands and a thick cloud of black smoke above his shoulders.

While the painting may appear shocking, it's about Zen meditation and examining one's self - the man is looking at his head, contemplating, Lee said.

The show is set in one of the center's newly renovated galleries - hardwood floors have been installed in place of the gray carpet, and all the asbestos floor tiles have been removed and replaced with new ones.

The building is also undergoing a $400,000 structural repair job.

"It's amazing, the difference it makes," Manucy said of the renovations. "I hope, personally, that the gallery being remodeled and the high caliber of the first show will attract not only the public but artists who would like to exhibit here."

Gallery hours at Howard County Center for the Arts, 8510 High Ridge Road, Ellicott City, are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday. An artists' reception will be held from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Oct. 26. Information: 410-313-2787.

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