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March 16, 2011

"nothingtoodoo" — Terence Koh


Excerpts from Roberta Smith's March 10, 2011 New York Times review follow.


Terence Koh is an artist of many moods, most of them flamboyant or aggressive.

In his art, though, Mr. Koh, who was born in Beijing in 1977 and grew up in Canada, practices a kind of gleeful asceticism, one that mixes parody and spirituality while riffing on a long line of 20th-century purist-provocateurs starting with the Dadaists.

With "nothingtoodoo," his first solo show at the Mary Boone Gallery, Mr. Koh gives his ascetic side full reign, to disconcerting effect. He is performing a kind of abject penance that is hard to dismiss, even if you may initially want to; it is too quiet, unsettling and self-effacing. It involves a fair amount of physical discomfort, if not downright suffering, and in its own way it too is hard to look at.

The show consists of Mr. Koh [above and below], dressed in white pajamalike clothes, slowly circling a beautiful cone-shaped pile of rocky solar salt — 8 feet high and 24 feet across — on his knees. Not his hands and knees, his knees. Staring straight ahead, his upper body motionless, he circumnavigates the salt almost nonstop during the gallery’s public hours — eight hours a day, five days a week — and has been doing so for four weeks. Occasionally he lies prostrate on the floor; the gallery says he started using kneepads after the first week.


This is performance art reduced to a bare and relentless rite in a space that has been stripped down to a kind of temple. (Its regal proportions help.) Most furniture has been removed from the reception area; a wall of shelves usually arrayed with catalogs is empty; skylights provide the only illumination. The monumental mound of salt — a preservative and curative that can also inflame open wounds — conjures altars and offerings, as well as pain and healing.

There’s a "for real" quality to "nothingtoodoo" that performance art achieves only rarely. Mr. Koh’s painful circling thwarts many of the expectations associated with the genre. It is not especially sensational or funny or entertaining. It doesn’t involve bravura skill or derring-do. There is little to watch, in either a visual or voyeuristic sense — nothing to do — although the salt, the unusually austere gallery and Mr. Koh’s self-contained concentration definitely create their own atmosphere.

In his statement Mr. Koh refers to a perfect mountain of salt" at the show’s beginning that will be a "a perfect field of salt" by its end. According to the gallery Mr. Koh initially intended to level the pile of salt with either his hands or his knees as the work progressed. This part of the plan is not being executed and does not seem humanly possible. I already wish Mr. Koh — whose movement seems increasingly tentative and whose prostrations are becoming more frequent — would stop while he still has knee joints.

His performance resonates, even under these rarefied circumstances, with a history of principled abstinence and self-inflicted pain. Is it really art? It definitely emphasizes the philosophical nature of Mr. Koh’s work, previously conducted with a fair amount of camp and posturing. All along he has raised questions about the nature of art, the role of the artist (and the artistic persona) and the condition of otherness. Here he may have "othered" himself right out of the art world into a larger sphere of symbolic action.


Excerpts from Linda Yablonsky's February 24, 2011 New York Times T Magazine story about Koh's piece follow.


As a designer-label ascetic who boasts a white, monkey-fur coat and white-on-white suits, Terence Koh has no trouble getting attention. But it isn’t just his monochromatic taste that turns heads. The ceremony, elegance and debauchery of his sculpture and performance work, which can involve white chocolate, potato starch, white sugar, blinding white light and bodily fluids, also draws crowds. For his current show at Mary Boone’s Chelsea gallery, however, visitors are leaving him pretty well alone.

That’s because Koh is avoiding all contact with them. For the run of the show, which is called "nothingtoodooterencekoh," he has taken a vow of silence. And frankly there isn’t much to shout about. Though he is present every day during gallery hours, Koh’s act is so quiet that people sweeping aside the heavy white curtain blocking the entrance to the exhibition space may not even notice him right away.

What they do see immediately is a mountain of rock salt – 45 tons of it, imported from the Salar de Atacama, an ancient salt lake in Chile. It takes up most of the gallery, lit only by what daylight is coming through the skylight. Once they start walking around the mountain, they will come across the artist lying prostrate on the floor beside it or inching around it on his knees [below].


He repeats these actions throughout the day without a break, raising not even a murmur from his bewildered audience.


Terence Koh's "nothingtoodoo" continues through March 19, 2011 at the Mary Boone Gallery, 541 West 24th Street, Chelsea; 212-752-2929; maryboonegallery.com

March 16, 2011 at 04:01 PM | Permalink


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I can't decide it this is a good or bad use of time and energy.

Posted by: Kay | Mar 17, 2011 10:17:17 PM

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