Sue de Beer
Harry Dodge & Stanya Kahn
Luis Gispert & Jeffrey Reed
Erik van Lieshout
Stephen G. Rhodes
Ryan Trecartin & Lizzie Fitch
To locate Terence Koh and his work, one might draw a triangle—a triangle connecting the three points of “narcissism,” “repetition,” and “profanation.” As with a triangle, one needs to know at least one angle, that is, the trajectories upon which two of the lines extend into space. The constant doubling and mirroring taking place in the form of Koh’s images of young boys, both pornographic and romantic; his staging of various performances and roles which are never clearly defined, but rather flow into each other so as to no longer give contour to any one shape; and the well orchestrated hype of his “business&soul-mate” relationship with his deal- er Javier Peres all give rise to the charge of his being, as Michael Kimmelman of the New York Times has written, “in the business of narcissism.” While all of this is true, this assessment of Koh’s work still misses the point completely; it fails to calculate the trajectory that this “narcissism” takes within the triangle described earlier. Koh not only knows that this kind of comportment is rewarded, since much of the art world exists precisely to function as a recharge station for failing feelings of selfhood and importance; he also knows that the only way to deal with this fact is to accept its existence, rather than deny it. The aspect of repetition—permanent movement as much as permanent production—breaks the spell that Narcissus’s reflected image of himself holds over him. He does not starve contemplating his own image, as he is too busy going to the bottom of the well and coming up with dirty little objects soiled from the earth and the drudge in which they were stuck, though now, perhaps, cleaned or whitewashed in the depths of the pool. The effect of this comportment is the very opposite of the assertion of singularity and unity, or of mastery and permanence, which narcissism is supposed to affirm.
There are many precursors, both dead and alive, for Koh’s work. Dieter Roth (who Koh himself cherishes and who was also an incessant collector of things worthy and unworthy), Félix González-Torres (whose insistence is a flirt with what is passing or absent), David Wojnarowicz, and Robert Mapplethorpe had already transcended “identity politics” by confronting us and themselves with what meanings being gay can have. However, much less than with most artists, Koh’s recognition of such references and their impact—momentary and fleeting, as most of his artwork seems to be, or lasting and fundamental, like his faithfulness to whatever impulse it is that makes this “koh-bunny” run—doesn’t seem to matter much. What seems to be more important is that with all of those hints and openings, and signs and signifiers, and with all the potential for reading and deciphering, for identifying and getting in the mood, an enigma remains. Shamin Momin of the Whitney Museum in New York has framed this aspect of Koh’s work—at the same time ephemeral and enigmatic—in a succinct statement: “In Koh’s work—seductive, evocative yet always holding its ultimate inaccessibility, its core, to itself—this is, perhaps, the final secret.”
Yet this enigma is not one of the unfathomable depths of the soul, or of meaning, life, or the universe. Rather, it is an enigma that dissolves and reconstitutes itself constantly with the act of transferring objects and images from a world of goal-oriented use to a world of useless play. Just as he takes pornographic materials, whose simple raison d’être is to lend your hand some mental help, and renders them useless by recontextualizing them or shifting them from the task of getting you off to the pleasure that keeps you coming, so he takes ordinary objects, like those once used for gift exchanges or to boil tea, and renders them useless by painting them white and putting them into a glass display case. He doubles an object not by copying the original, but simply by using some plaster material to form a likeness, literally something a bit “like this.” What a simple way to demystify identification, the narcissistic production of a self! This is what identification is all about: a half-baked plaster copy of some useless original. It’s just an object that is playful, hazardous, and collected, yet at the same time it is profaned, exhibited, but not made sacred, or extracted from circulation, thus exemplifying a method of extracting things from the ordinary world of use. Koh brings things to their graves so they can keep on simply “being” in their “irreparable thusness” (Giorgio Agamben). He makes ghosts of things. This is what profanation is: to give things a different use, or better, a form of play in which they no longer are thought of in terms of justifying their existence through their use or by being good for something. But this profanation is a celebratory act, not a moralistic, Protestant withdrawal from the world. In the beautiful spaces that these objects generate by the hand of Koh, Narcissus laughs at his image rather than pining away gazing at it, dancing on his own grave.
Lives and works in New York and Berlin
|2007||Whitney Museum of American Art, New York|
|2006||Kunsthalle Zürich, Switzerland |
Buddha Fly Earth, Asia Song Society, New York
|2005||Gone, Yet Still, Wiener Secession, Vienna |
Mein Tod Mein Tod, Peres Projects, Berlin
|2007||Absent Without Leave, Victoria Miro Gallery, London|
|2006||USA Today, Royal Academy of Arts, London, in conjunction with the Saatchi Gallery |
Dark, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, The Netherlands
|2005||Log Cabin, Artist Space, New York|
|2004||The Temple of the Golden Piss, Extra City Center for Contemporary Art, Antwerp, Belgium|
Ana Finel Honigman, “Into the Void: The Art of Terence Koh,” in: Dazed and Confused, no.144 (December 2006).
Christopher Bollen, “The Ties That Bind,” in: Artforum, no. 9 (May 2006).
Gone, Yet Still, ed. Terence Koh, exh. cat. Wiener Secession (Vienna, 2005).
Koh & 50 Most Beautiful Boy, ed. Terence Koh, exh. cat. Peres Projects (Berlin, 2004).
Debra Singer, “The Way Things Never Were: Nostalgia’s Possibilities and the Unpredictable Past,” in: The Whitney Biennial, ed. Chrissie Iles, et al. exh. cat. Whitney Biennial 2004 (New York, 2004).