‘Each time I come to Princeton, I feel like I’m getting smarter,” says Ik-Joong Kang, who organized this year’s annual small works exhibit at the Arts Council of Princeton. In 2005, he created a different kind of small works exhibit; he and Jeff Nathanson, now the Council’s executive director, designed a permanent wall installation in the Princeton Public Library entitled “Happy World,” comprised of 4,000 pieces, featuring objects — historical mementos, poetry, drawings, sculptures, and even doorknobs — donated by members of the Princeton community.
Kang took a similar approach to organizing this year’s small works show, on view at the Arts Council’s temporary space in the Princeton Shopping Center. Its permanent site at the corner of Witherspoon and Paul Robeson Place is under construction and is due to be completed in fall, 2007.
In early discussions about the project with Jeff Nathanson, Kang says there were many factors to consider: the small space available in the aptly named conTEMPORARY Arts Center gallery, the idea of the show serving as a fundraiser, and the desire to bring in outside artists. Kang’s artistic resolution was to draw a grid pattern on the gallery walls, consisting of 800 seven-inch squares. The squares are numbered in order. Artists from the community were invited to bring in their artwork — which could not exceed six inches in any dimension. When the artists came to drop off their works, they randomly drew a number from a box to determined where their work was to be hung.
Says Kang: “Drawing numbers is very democratic. It is like the ancient method of space assignment, I Ching, with a mixture of John Cage and chance. The organization of the show then reflects how we, as people, may find ourselves ‘organized’ at any given point in any day, which is more or less random. We don’t consider how we will look next to the person on the train next to the empty seat; we just sit.” The process also eliminates any hierarchy or favoritism.
Kang’s goal was community contribution. “Let’s invite everybody and make a grid like a fishnet, inspired by those in my native Korea. By connecting our works, we are all connected.” Kang also understands that walls in general are barriers, “They are meant to block us.” But, he says, by inviting the community to participate and connect with each other and each other’s art works, metaphorically “we can take the wall down.” In a press statement, Kang says: “This net holds together the individuals in a community and is a wonderful metaphor for the Arts Council’s mission of building community through the arts.” There are 105 artists represented in the installation.
Kang, 46, was born in 1960 in Cheong Ju, Korea, raised in Seoul with two brothers, and has lived and worked in New York City since 1984. His father, he says, died 15 years ago due to complications associated with diabetes and “was an unsuccessful businessman with many financial difficulties though he held a pharmacy diploma.” Kang received his BFA from Hong-Ik University in Seoul in 1984 and his MFA from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, in 1987. He and his wife have a seven-year-old son and live on the lower east side in Manhattan.
Kang has exhibited widely, including a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art at Philip Morris in New York in 1996; a two-person show with Nam June Paik at the Whitney Museum of American Art at Champion, Connecticut; and exhibitions at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, the Ludwig Museum, Cologne, Germany, and the National Museum of Contemporary Art, Seoul, South Korea. In spring, 1997, he was awarded the Special Merit prize in the 47th Venice Biennale.
He is a master of the multiple-element installation. In December, 1999, Kang worked with 50,000 children from South Korea to create “100,000 Dreams.” The project, which featured children’s artwork displayed inside a one-kilometer-long vinyl tunnel, was installed in Unification Park in the DMZ, or Korean Demilitarized Zone, a four-kilometer-wide strip of land straddling the Military Demarcation Line, established after the Korean War to form North Korea’s boundary with South Korea. Similarly, in 2001, at the visitor’s lobby of the United Nations in New York, Kang did an installation of 34,000 children’s drawings from 135 countries, which were incorporated with the sound of children’s voices. In 2004, Kang gathered 125,000 children’s drawings from 141 countries and attached them to a 45-foot-diameter floating globe at Ho Su Park, in Ilsan, Korea.
In the conTEMPORARY Gallery installation, in square number 521, hangs Jane Archer’s “Untitled,” a mixed media piece. It is a simple yet elegant composition of three floral-like, circular forms constructed of pins, nuts, bolts, and washers on a light green background. Archer received her BFA in glass at the California College of Arts and Crafts in 1995. A Montgomery Township resident, she is a stay-at-home mother who does volunteer work. Her husband, Tim Williams, is a software engineer in IT at Morgan Stanley. “Untitled” is a continuation of her use of industrial materials. Archer says: “Ultimately my work is about the materials and using industrial materials as units to create things outside of their intended use.”
Square number 284 is a vibrant, untitled mixed media composition by Amarilis Vargas Matteo. The piece shows rich blue, red, and orange, deliberate and active strokes, mostly abstract with architectural references. Matteo recently moved to Princeton from New Mexico, where she earned her masters in art education at the University of New Mexico in 2005. Her husband, Edward Matteo, is a Ph.D. candidate in chemical engineering at Princeton University. Matteo says that this piece is a bit different from most of her previous work. “The palette is different. In New Mexico I used a lot more browns and blue because that is what you see in the landscape. Here, for some reason, I’m using a lot more red.” “Untitled” was constructed from a number of sketches she created since moving to New Jersey.
A watercolor by Karen Bannister occurpies square number 228. “Landscape” is a colorful composition with a line of tress in the foreground in oranges, purples, greens, blues and reds, separated from the hazy hills in the background by a mild blue stream. Bannister is retired, having managed the music department at the Princeton University store. A Hopewell resident, she has taken a few classes at the Arts Council, and though she does not consider herself a full-time artist, she says, “I paint whenever I can.” And though landscapes are typical of her work, she says, “My favorite thing to paint is portraits” — friends, acquaintances, and interesting faces from life and from photos.
In square number 709 hangs a black and white photograph by Jennifer Kitchen McGann. The photograph is of a street scene in Romania titled, “Ocna Mures, Romania,” taken when Mcgann spent a few weeks working with friends at an orphanage. The photograph is taken facing the sun, causing the figures to become dark shapes, appearing more formally than personally, and casting long shadows toward the viewer. The photograph has a rich and varied light quality, and the feeling of the composition quivers between the everyday and the transcendental. Kitchen grew up in Buffalo, New York, earned an associate degree in photography from the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City in 1990. She recently moved to Robbinsville and is a full-time guidance counselor at Princeton High School. Her husband, Brian McGann, is the circulation director for Architectural Record magazine at McGraw-Hill. About her photography, McGann says: “I do quite a bit of street photography. I do have a photojournalist point of view; it’s a little fun that way.”
“Small Works for a Small Space” is on view through April 15. Kang invites artists to continue contributing work throughout the life of the show. He says: “As a curator, I like to see these kinds of things grow like they have a life — like a tree. As a whole, it becomes one entity, one big contribution.”
“Small Works for a Small Space,”Arts Council of Princeton, ConTEMPORARY Gallery, Princeton Shopping Center, 301 North Harrison Street, 609-924-8777. Also on view in the gallery’s atrium and reading room, Kids Earth Fund “Kids Helping Kids,” presenting the creative talent of children from around the world. Kids Earth Fund is a nonprofit organization that works worlwide to promote peace and environmental conservation through the medium of children’s art. Both exhibits are on view to April 15.
Gallery hours are Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m; and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.