by Madeleine Bailey
I had a friend once who, in some mistaken home decorating attempt, painted an approximately 9’ x 6’ room a deep kelly green. I don’t know if you have had experience with this particular shade, but if you have you will understand it when I say that immediately, in a classic instance of someone playing with color who should not, that which was previously a good sized bedroom immediately shrank to a claustrophobic hole that no amount of sunlight could pierce through.
Upon walking into “Simply Fresh!,” works by Han Seok Hyun at Walsh Gallery, a spacious show housed in a very large gallery, my psychological reaction was distressingly similar. The viewers in the space positively glowed green in Hyun’s exhibition that featured lettuce (of the artificial, plastic variety) in what seemed like every possible permutation of this vegetable being presented as the central object in a work of art.
The first taste of this endeavor was offered in the form of one bright green piece of plasticized lettuce, cradled in a wooden music box. This crinkled object was held by a white plastic dish upon which it contorted, gyrated, and pulsated with every kick of tinny sound, writhing in what looked like quite painful action on its stark white plate.
And this continued. The lettuce was the Madonna in a triptych titled “Holy FRESH!-trinity,” complete with neon halos. There was lettuce poised as if to jump on Ionic Greek columns, and neon outlines of lettuce arranged in a similar fashion on more reductive, modernist wooden scaffolds. The lettuce took a turn as arte povera in a series of marker drawings on plastic bags, and was featured as a text-based construction carved out of Styrofoam titled “MUST BE FRESH,” which was notably not green and sneakily lacking the literal presence of lettuce.
In case you missed it, it was hard to overlook the fact that the artist had conceived this show ironically. And so in many ways, my revulsion towards the sum total of this installation was surely largely the point. Further, this work neatly reminded me of the unfortunate reality that in fact to experience any strong emotion, in a gallery, which actually stems from said art in the gallery, is a great thing. In this way, these works created out of a series of one-liners were extremely successful. I spent some time in the space fully taking in this installation. But in doing so, I came to several observations.
In this market where figures like Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons no longer seem (if they ever did) quite so palatable, it is perhaps especially reasonable to offer criticism of that system by which galleries operate. But by doing so, you are inherently obligated (or at least expected) to provide some kind of an alternative, bright or no. To offer up to us that the art world is only interested in that which is fresh, crunchy, and green (or, if you prefer, refreshing, edgy, and young) is no news. There was a Grinchy-ness to this show, the sort of feeling you get when your shoes are (to use the Grinch’s ailment) 3 sizes too small. Upon being presented with a set of real problems, I was hungry for thoughtfulness or generosity on the part of the artist in the form alternatives, if not answers. And I received none.