Leeah Joo

09/29/2017 - 08/01/2018
Leeah Joo

Leeah Joo is a Korean-American artist who explores cross-cultural experiences by combining Eastern and Western painting traditions to examine the act of looking. Her compositions often depict what is covered and/or what remains hidden. Presenting a vista of silk wrapped mountains and valleys, Sexybeast (2017) sets the stage for Korean folklore and history to unravel before a contemporary American experience. The drapery in this work is inspired by one of Kansas City’s most treasured American masterpieces Venus Rising from the Sea—A Deception by Raphaelle Peale:, which hangs in the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Peale’s trompe l’oeil painting is the pinnacle of obfuscation both in its overt subject—a reinterpretation of John Barry’s 1772 painting Venus Anadyomene wherein Peale has painted a white sheet strategically hung to hide the nude Venus behind it—as well as in the evidence of an underpainting. During a Peale family exhibition in 1967, an underpainting with striking similarities to a portrait of Peale painted by his own father was discovered. The discovery of this pentimenti has lead historians to believe that Peale copied—and then painted over—his father’s work.

Peeking over the v-fold in Joo’s violet swathed hilltops is a traditional Korean goblin or dokkaebi in place of the Venus. The dokkaebi is a fearsome supernatural beast known for pranks that ultimately prove to be harmless. In this composition, the leering goblin stands in for a different example of patrilineal inheritance: Kim Jung Un, Supreme Leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea). This conflation of a contemporary figure and mythological creature can be read as a painterly incantation or binding spell, wherein the artist marks the megalomaniacal leader as impotent to inflict any lasting harm.

Born in 1971 in Seoul, Leeah Joo immigrated to U.S. with her family to settle in Indianapolis. Joo spent six years in Kansas City (1998-2004) when she taught at KCAI and was awarded a Charlotte Street Fellowship in 2001, before settling in Connecticut with her husband, children, parents, and a flock of chickens. This Project Wall was commissioned by the Artspace to celebrate Every Street is Charlotte Street.

For more information about the artist Leeah Joo.